Friday, February 29, 2008

Book Review: The Breadbakers Apprentice

Master Baker Peter Reinhart knows how to write a good cookbook. Full of step by step photos on everything from shaping a batard to proofing a ciabbata, and clear explanations on the science and art of baking bread, his new volume, The Breadbaker's Apprentice, is one of the best books that I have read in months. Not just the best cookbook-the best book. The Breadbaker's Apprentice radiates Reinhart's knowledge, excitement and enthusiasm as he invites you to join him in the grand adventure of breadbaking.

And what an adventure it is! After grabbing our attention with his excellent semi-autobiographical essay "What is it about bread?", Reinhart takes us on a fascinating tour of breadmaking, starting with the science and history that underpins this culinary art. This section of the book, titled "Deconstructing Bread: A Tutorial" is divided into two parts. One deals with mundane but necessary things such as the composition of the wheat grain, weights, measures, bakers percentages, different types of flours and whether or not you really need that pizza stone after all.

The other explains the 12 Stages of Breadmaking in clear and useful language. (These are, if you were wondering, Mise en place, Mixing, Primary fermentation, Punching down, Dividing, Rounding, Benching, Shaping and Panning, Proofing, Baking, Cooling, and last but certainly not least, Storing and Eating). Detailed descriptions and excellent photos illustrate every step and Reinhart's clear prose would set even the most amateur baker at ease. Despite one's rush to get to the recipes, one can't help but be impressed by the detail and fine writing in each of these chapters, which somehow manages to make flour percentages sound interesting to even the casual baker.

After learning all we need to know about enzymes, starches, sugars and "coaxing" the maximum amount of flavour out of a grain of wheat, we move on to the main entree-the breads themselves. Reinhart is the inventor of my absolute favorite, foolproof pizza dough, which is one of 47 recipes in the book. Here I must add that although this book is a bit light on recipes compared to some others, I find the clear explanations of technique, along with the formulas for different kinds of pre-ferments and sourdough starters, to more than make up the difference. Once you have some of these pre-ferments under your belt, you can just start experimenting and see what you come up with.

Every recipe is amply illustrated with excellent photos and come with a handy side-bar that explains how long the bread will take to make and gives useful tips and commentary. Measurements are listed in cups and ounces, but unfortunately the metric system is completely ignored, which I hope is an oversight that will be rectified in future editions. Step by step instructions are clear and easy to understand and photos illustrate any tricky shaping techniques. The recipes are clearly adapted for home baking and Reinhart offers useful tips and suggestions on how to bake artisanal, bakery quality bread in a lowly home oven.

The recipes in The Breadbaker's Apprentice all seem wonderful, if a bit on the white flour side of things. My only gripe about this book is that there aren't more whole grain recipes. While he does include a recipe for light wheat bread, which is made with 1/3 whole wheat flour, and for one 100% whole wheat loaf, I wish that some of Reinhart's other recipes listed ideas for how to punch up the whole grain content a bit. Otherwise I have no complaints. So far I have tried the amazingly delicious and simple Pain a l'Ancienne (see the photos above) and the delectable sticky buns, and his Neapolitan pizza dough is my go-to recipe. Next up: cinnamon walnut bread, bagels, focaccia and some plain sourdough! I have starter waiting patiently in my refrigerator as I write this.

Do I recommend Reinhart's book? That would be a resounding yes. This big and beautiful hardback was definitely worth my money. Let me know if you agree once you have tried your first taste of Pain a l'Ancienne.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Apple Spinach Salad and Apologies

I owe you all an apology. Its been over 10 days since my last post, and I'm still not done with the truckload of homework that has been up-ended on top of me. My head is out of the rubble now, but its going to be a little while before my hands are free so I can write about the really awesome soup recipe that I came up with this week (but don't worry, its worth waiting for!).

So I'm very sorry but I don't have a recipe today-instead I have a couple pictures of my lunch from Sunday. And a list for apple spinach salad. I wont call it a recipe because it is really just a vague idea that I ate the other day. Enjoy!

1 crisp tart delicious apple (from my beloved farmers market)

2 generous handfuls of organic spinach (farmers market again!)

About 1/2 cup diced organic celery (trucked in from a mono-crop operation in California)

1 tbsp raisins

1 tbsp dried cranberries

1 tbsp sunflower seeds (toasted for flavour!)

Some lemon or orange zest if you are feeling in a zesty mood.

Mix together. Douse with lemon juice, honey, salt and a spritz of olive oil, perhaps a touch of minced rosemary. Or try it with my Dijon-olive oil dressing. Yum!

Friday, February 15, 2008

More things to do with World Peace Cookies: Mint Chocolate Cookie Dough Ice Cream

Mint chocolate chip ice cream was my all time favorite ice cream flavour when I was a kid. Ice cream has always been a big treat for me and having something cold and minty with crunchy bits of chocolate in it just made the day seem brighter. Even now, although I tend to eschew the term "favorite" since achieving some semblance of adulthood, I can say without a doubt that ice creams that combine mint and chocolate still top my list of prefered desserts. Therefore it's not surprising that I churned up some mint chocolate cookie dough ice cream a couple weeks ago-what's surprising is that it took me this many months to get around to making it!

I have been experimenting with ice cream recipes trying to come up with the simplest ones I could invent. While I do appreciate the rich taste of a custard-based ice cream, I find all that cream and eggs to be a bit too rich, almost greasy, to my palate. Additionally, a family tendency towards chronically high cholesteral levels have driven me to avoid egg yolks in most of my cooking. Now some may argue that at this point my ice cream isn't really ice cream, but then gelato (while I admit it does employ cream) usually doesn't have eggs in it and a lot of commercially produced ice creams avoid eggs as well. Plus, I think that the lighter recipe allows the chosen flavour of the ice cream to really shine through.

While this recipe calls for the use of World Peace Cookie dough, you can substitute chocolate chips, chunks or slivers, any chocolate cookie dough or even cooked brownies. I just recommend that you freeze any of your add-ins before making the ice cream so that they don't cause the ice cream to melt when you add them during the churning process.

The World's Easiest Mint and Chocolate Ice Cream

Makes about 4 cups. Total calories depends on what kind of add-ins you use.

2 cups 1% milk (cold)

1/2 can sweetened condensed milk, either non-fat or full fat, your choice.

3/4 tsp mint extract (or to taste, this makes a particularly minty dessert)

1 cup chopped frozen world peace cookie dough or other chocolate cookie dough, or your favorite chocolate or chocolate chips (or omit these if you would like a pure mint ice cream)

Procedure:

1. This is probably one of the easiest ice cream recipes around. I guarantee that you can have ice cream in your bowl 40 minutes after you start, as long as your milk and the ice cream churning equipment is already chilled. Simply stir together the milks until the sweetened condensed milk is dissolved. Stir in the mint extract. If you want a green tint to your ice cream, you may add a couple drops of green food colouring until you get the shade that you desire.

2. If the milks are not cold, put them in the fridge or freezer for a while. Pour into your ice cream maker and churn. Add in the chocolate or cookie dough when the ice cream has started to get thick. Pack into a container and freeze. The ice cream will not freeze solid even with non-fat milk, because of the sweetened condensed milk (I don't know what weird stabilizers they put in there, but they work). Remember to get organic milks for this recipe, and yes, organic sweetened condensed milk DOES exist!

Tip: This makes a lovely ice cream sandwich with two world peace cookies. Yum!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Breakfast Series #6: Let Them Eat Sticky Buns!

If you didn't already have enough reasons to buy Peter Reinhart's newest bread baking book, "The Breadbaker's Apprentice", now you do.

These sticky buns are as good as any that I have devoured in the grand state of Pennsylvania, which, as some may know, is the heart of sticky bun land, USA. The Pennyslvania "Dutch" (really from Germany) know how to make some of the best gooey, sweet delicious sticky buns ever, and they are absolutely loaded with butter, sugar, nuts and raisins. These are no exception. I'm not even sure exactly how much sugar and fat is involved...its in the dough, its in the filling, its in the caramel...but lets just say that you might want to plan on salad for dinner if you are having this for dessert-and you can skip the dressing while you're at it! That being said, a sticky bun just wouldn't BE a sticky bun if it wasn't covered with sticky gooey sugary buttery yumminess.

I am of course way behind on trying out these sticky buns. I have wanted to make them ever since the Daring Bakers cooked them up back in September 07, and since January, when I purchased The Breadbaker's Apprentice, they have been earmarked for a lazy weekend afternoon. But that lazy weekend afternoon never did come, so it wasn't until I was home recovering from a cold one weekday, feeling cooped up in the house after sleeping til noon, that I finally got around to trying the buns that everyone else had already made and raved about. I used the rind of an entire orange in the fragrant, sweet dough, and put more than the suggested "sprinkle" of walnuts on the bottom. My apartment was scented with cinnamon, sugar and orange for the entire day. And the results were beyond fantastic. Cinnabon has nothing on this recipe. And I can't wait to try variations with maybe a marmalade filling or topping instead of caramel, or maybe some more exotic spices. I have to agree with the Daring Bakers-I would ask this sticky bun to be my valentine anytime! You can get the recipe here, or just buy Reinhart's book and try out his other amazing breads.

Breakfast Series #5: Cornmeal Mush the New World Way

Polenta is just a fancy word for cornmeal mush. We all know this but we still like to ooh and ahh over a tasty entree plated on a base of well made (read: not lumpy!) polenta. Plus Italy didn't even have any corn to make polenta with until after 1492, but thats another story.

Today's story is about a sick person (me) who woke up at 6:30 in the morning and made this for breakfast before deciding that going to work would be a bad idea after all. This is a hearty, warming and filling breakfast dish that will allow you to go back to bed for at least four hours before hunger pangs wake you up again.

It also features some of my favorite temperate zone foods from the American continent: maple syrup, dried cranberries and cornmeal.


Cranberry Maple Breakfast Polenta

Generously serves one, with about 379 calories if you use 1% milk and no sunflower seeds, about 426 calories with the seeds. If you are making this for a crowd, just multiply the recipe by the number of folks you plan to serve and make sure to use a whisk to avoid any lumps in the polenta.

1/3 cup instant polenta meal/cornmeal

1 cup low fat milk (I use 1%)

1 tablespoon pure maple syrup (Grade B has a more pronounced maple flavour)

2 tablespoons dried cranberries

1 tablespoon toasted sunflower seeds (this is optional but I like the extra crunch and vitamin E)

A dash of water or milk as needed

Procedure:

1. Heat the milk in a saucepan until nearly boiling. Quickly stir in the cornmeal and cranberries and keep stirring until the entire mixture thickens (a whisk prevents lumps). Lower the heat to medium/low.

2. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring all the while. If the mixture begins to stick or gets too thick for your taste, add a little water or milk. Stir in the tablespoon of maple syrup, top with the sunflower seeds and serve.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Year in Bread's Rosemary Raisin Loaf

A Year in Bread is one of my favorite baking blogs, which, unfortunately, is soon coming to an end after a year of innovative and exciting collaboration between three great food bloggers (Susan at Foodie Farmgirl, Beth at Kitchen Mage and Kevin at Seriously Good). Regular readers will remember me raving about the Grape Focaccia that Kevin posted on this blog. So its not surprising that I turned to A Year in Bread for yet another rosemary and grape infused recipe, except in this case it was a Italian Rosemary and Raisin bread that knocked my socks off.


Doesn't it look yummy? One of my loaves (the one depicted above) rose quicker than the other one, so by the time I slashed it and stuck it in the oven it had risen just a little too much and so fell instead of puffing outward like Susan's. But it was scrumptious regardless. I tagged this bread under my breakfast series because it is fantastic toasted with goat cheese and jam smeared all over it. Or plain. Or with lots of butter. Or...well, you get the idea. Susan suggests french toast, but I think mine will be long gone before weekend brunch-time rolls around.

I highly encourage everyone to try out this bread. Its a pretty simple recipe, and if you are squeezed for time you can put the dough in the fridge overnight with no ill effects. I personally did just that after forming the loaves and then baked them the next night. You could also stick the dough in the fridge after the kneading and shape and bake them the next day if you desire. I also made a couple of other changes-the main one was replacing 3 of the four eggs called for with organic egg whites. This significantly reduced the calories and cholesterol count per slice, and the bread still tasted great so I didn't see any negative effects. I also slightly reduced the salt and increased the amount of rosemary to get a more robust flavour. You can get the recipe at A Year in Bread: Italian Rosemary Raisin Bread. I definitely recommend giving it a try.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Cacao in the Rough

There has been a lot of chatter about chocolate on the food blogger circuit lately-specifically about Culinate's death by chocolate blogger competition, whose grand prize is a trip for two to a food festival of the same name in Napa California. Its no wonder that everyone's talking about it.

Unfortunately even if I were to win such a competition, there is no way I could leave work and school to fly to California for two days, so I'm taking advantage of this sudden chocolate obsession to post another of my pictures from Belize, this one of some nice cacao pods that we harvested in December while I was at home. The curvy blade like thing is one of the long handled tools that we use to cut pods from the higher limbs of mature cacao trees.

This is where it all starts: with creamy white pulp covered beans inside of some gorgeous pods. Don't they look beautiful?

Monday, February 4, 2008

Ginger Tofu and Chickpeas

This is what I had for dinner. And I can guarantee you that its flavour belies its homely appearance. This is a dish fit for kings. Kings who like ginger and red hot pepper flakes. My kind of kings.

This dish is an adaption of a recipe from Jane Brody's Good Food Book (the same Jane Brody who came up with the BBQed chicken that I featured in my previous post). While the bbq chicken has always been a staple in my immediate family, this recipe was one that I had never tried before. The original calls for chicken, but I'm not a big meat eater so I didn't have enough on hand to make it. Besides, the spices in this recipe seemed to call out for experimentation so I pulled out some boxes of tofu (vacuum sealed for freshness) and after leaving them to drain, ran off to class.

When I returned I browned the tofu, sauteed onions and minced ginger. I added to the spices, increasing the "pinch" of red pepper flakes and tossing in some lemon zest and 5 spice powder for good measure. The result was really good, hearty and filling, yet with a complex flavour that you don't grow tired of quickly, which is a good thing since I made about 7 cups of the stuff, enough to last me all week.

I highly recommend this for a mid-week dinner, or better yet, make it sunday evening and then you will have leftovers to take to work the next day. It goes wonderfuly with brown rice. Feel free to adjust the red pepper flakes back to a pinch if you aren't a fan of spicy food, but be warned, 1/4 cup of fresh ginger packs its own kind of punch.

Ginger Tofu and Chickpeas

Makes about 7 cups, 1245 calories for the whole recipe, or around 178 calories per cup.

Roughly 2 1/4 lbs extra firm tofu, or tempeh or a mix of both (I did a mix of both. Organic is best if you are tried to avoid genetically modified foods.)
2 cups of cooked chickpeas (if using canned, drain and rinse them)
Juice of two large lemons
1 tsp of grated lemon zest
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
1/2 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1/4 cup peeled, minced fresh ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cardamom or crushed cardamom pods (I just crushed some pods in my makeshift mortar to release the flavour)
1 tsp ground coriander, or whole crushed seeds
1 tsp red hot pepper flakes (or to taste)
several dashes (about 1/4 tsp) five spice powder (optional-if you don't have it, don't use it)
2 cups of vegetable or chicken broth*

*Here is where you decide on whether you want a vegetarian recipe. I used chicken broth, but vegetable should be just as good. If your broth is high in sodium you probably wont need to add more salt.

Procedure:

1. You can skip this step if you are pressed for time, the tofu will just be a bit more fragile. If you are using tempeh you wont need to drain it. Take out your blocks of tofu and place them on several layers of paper towels on a cutting board or other flat surface. Cover with a couple more layers of paper towels. Place a heavy flat object on top (a heavy cookbook protected in a plastic bag, or whatever you have lying around). This will press the tofu, squeezing out excess moisture. Leave it to drain for at least 20 minutes and up to an hour or two. This dries out the tofu, making it easier to cook without falling apart into pieces.

2. Dice the tofu and/or tempeh into bite sized pieces. Chop the two large onions. Heat the 1/2 tbsp of oil at medium high heat in a large frying pan and carefully add the tofu. Brown lightly on both sides. The tofu will probably start to break up a bit when you turn it. Unless you are serving it to royalty, I wouldn't worry about trying to keep the pieces intact. Once the tofu is lightly browned, add the onion, salt (if using) and black pepper, lower the heat to medium/low and sautee until the onion is soft.

3. Add the peeled, minced ginger, the cumin, coriander, cardamom, red pepper flakes, lemon zest and five spice powder to the pan. Stir for a minute or two, then add the chickpeas, lemon juice and chicken or vegetable broth. Bring the pan to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the flavours have had time to meld together.

4. Serve heaped in a bowl with brown rice and a lemon wedge to squeeze over top.