Month: March 2016

Perfect Bread, Easy as Pie

bread loaves

Three perfect loaves of almost no knead bread.

My first adult baking task was completed on the advice from a friend who suggested I could turn a great pie with off-the-shelf supermarket ingredients like frozen pie dough and minute tapioca, and he was right.   “Easy as Pie” was true.   Over the decade and half since, I have occasionally challenged myself to be a better baker and nothing is more challenging (or more rewarding) than making good bread.   Of course, making bread is an art people dedicate to their life to, but it starts with a good recipe and good ingredients.  The recipe from Cook’s Illustrated (via the NY Times ‘where it was titled “No Knead Bread”) is so good, so nearly flawless, that it is continually reprinted again and again, cited everywhere and all over the Interwebz is the go-to bread recipe for people who want something more interesting than bread machine bread but less complicated than San Francisco sour dough bread starter in a jar.

It has just enough steps to ward off the casual bread baker and is probably a wee too simple for the artisan.  However, it’s perfect for me, because I know how to make them efficiently and good, and I always share.

This recipe has five ingredients, so MAKE THEM GOOD.  In a rare commitment to quality, I am actually listing the brands I use, because I do think they make a difference.  Perhaps not much, but enough.

  • King Arthur All-Purpose Flour
  • Morton’s Kosher Salt
  • Heinz White Vinegar
  • Fleischman’s Yeast
  • Sam Adams Summer Ale, Harpoon UFO White (beers I use)

I use a 6-qt Le Cruset cast-iron dutch oven, which is darkened from bread baking.    I make two loaves at a time because, honestly, I didn’t want to waste the beer, and the bread never ever gets thrown away, it always gets eaten.  (And the beer is consumed too, but there’s only a little left if you make two loaves).

Ingredients

  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (15 ounces), plus additional for dusting work surface
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons mild-flavored lager
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water  at room temperature

Directions

  1. Whisk flour, yeast, and salt in large bowl.
  2. Measure out liquid ingredients.  Ensure you use room temperature water– the only thing you really can mess up is by killing your yeast by pour hot water or inhibiting it by pouring water that’s too cold on it.
  3. To avoid this issue, I pour the vinegar and beer on the dry ingredients first, allowing the mixture to get bubbly, and then add the water and mix.
  4. Mix with a rubber spatula just until mixed (you’ll have the ‘shaggy ball’).
  5. Cover with saran wrap and leave for at least 8 hours.
  6. Lay a long sheet of parchment paper inside a shallow work bowl and spray with PAM.
  7.  Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead a dozen times. Shape dough into ball by pulling edges into middle. Transfer dough, seam-side down, back to bowl.
  8. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size.  This is a minimum of two hours, but longer can be better, depending on the temperature of your house at the time of baking. 
  9. Place your empty dutch oven, in the oven at 500 degrees for 30 minutes.
  10. Lightly flour top of dough and, using razor blade or sharp knife, make one long, slit along top of dough.
  11. Carefully remove pot from oven and remove lid.
  12. Pick up dough by lifting parchment overhang and lower into pot (let any excess parchment hang over pot edge). Cover pot and place in oven.
  13. Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake covered for 30 minutes.
  14. Remove lid and continue to bake until loaf is deep brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center registers 210 degrees, 25 minutes.  (I have found that you don’t actually have to take its temperature, it’s reliably this temperature unless something is very wrong).
  15. Cool as long as you can, but you might have to cut into it and slather it with salted butter and enjoy.
Best Simple Bread Recipe

So simple, so delicious, I always make two at a clip.

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Best Gingerbread Ginger Snaps / Spice Cookies

PA-based spice cookie

Ivan’s Famous Spice Cookies, my childhood in a cookie

Thanksgivings of my childhood were spent with my maternal grandparents and almost always it meant a trip to Pennsylvania and Ivin’s Famous Spiced Wafers.   My cousins and I loved these cookies so much that even with all the food and family it always what we talked about in January.  “Why can’t we get more spiced wafers?”  They were addictive, and seasonal.  So we’d have to wait 11 months until our next fix. (They’re now available at Amazon.com)  When I started to bake, I never thought about making a spiced cookie, because I didn’t really know what it was.  Turns out, it’s pretty much a Ginger Snap cookie, also sometimes called a Molasses Cookie, depending on which of the bevy of spices (cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg) or sugars (white sugar, brown sugar, molasses) is most prominent in your flavor.  I tried lots of recipes, some with real ginger, candied ginger, or even pepper in them.   Most of them were not very good.   Then my friend Carolyn (last name withheld to protect her secret) shared with me her “go to” ginger snap recipe and I was hooked.  Most of the recipes I post here are versions of other people’s recipes where I felt they could be improved, and so I improved them.  This is one of those rare recipes where there is nothing I can do to add to this recipe.  It is just about the most perfect recipe there is.  Of course, I’m a little heavy-handed with the butter, molasses and white sugar, but otherwise, it’s pretty much as written below.    The original recipe calls for a frosting, which I determined was not necessary and actually detracted from the cookies.

Whenever I make these, they always disappear, whether I cook them perfectly, or too long.   They are just that good.   I do make sure to do a few things, though.

  1. I always use Kate’s unsalted butter.  You may have a favorite, but that’s mine.
  2. Get your one egg to room temperature.
  3. Freshly grate your nutmeg, and don’t use powdered nutmeg.
  4. Make sure your spices are fresh.  If you don’t know if the company that made your spices is still in business, it makes sense to go shopping.
  5. Chill your dough before you roll it, and keep the cookies small.  They better “crack” that way, which gives them a distinct and pleasing look.

 

 

gingerbread cookies, molasses cookies, spiced cookies

Ginger bread cookies– chilled first, then rolled and baked, have distinct ‘cracked’ look.

  • 1 cup sugar (for cookies), plus more for rolling
  • 3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 cups flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. In a stand mixer, combine 1 cup granulated sugar with unsalted butter until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg and molasses.

2. In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking soda, and spices. Incorporate by whisking well.

3. Add to butter/molasses mixture and mix only until blended.

4. Chill dough if possible (leads to a better ‘cracked’ look in my opinion)

5. Fill a shallow bowl with granulated sugar. Break off pieces of dough and roll into balls; roll balls in sugar. Place on parchment paper on a cookie sheet and bake about 9-10 minutes for soft, ‘ginger bread’ cookies and 11-13 minutes for ‘ginger snap’ cookies.   Let cookies set on a cooling rack (which is nearly impossible).   The dough freezes pretty well, but they generally don’t ever see a freezer.

Final note— I have experimented with using brown sugar and it doesn’t do anything for the cookies, so don’t bother.   I find blackstrap molasses is the best kind, and it should flow pretty freely from the bottle.