Thursday, February 24, 2011

boutique flours and the baking of bread

i don't know if it's the same everywhere, but increasingly here in denmark, there are exciting and interesting new varieties of flour on the market. especially flour for baking bread. denmark is full of good bread (which is why husband is always shell-shocked when we go to the US and encounter the bread there). the danes do an excellent rye (rugbrød) that's excellent no matter where you buy it - from the discount supermarket to the local bakery - so i don't really tackle the dark breads. but 2-3 times a week, i bake a loaf of ordinary white or lighter brown bread. and these newly available flours are taking those loaves from ordinary to extraordinary.

a number of the new types of flour are from grains that were found in the nordic seed gene bank and which have been revived and cultivated back to commercial capacity in recent years. my weekly organic box provider has recently added baking boxes which include a variety of these newly-available flours.

ølandshvede - with higher protein and gluten content than ordinary flour - the dough you make with it tends to have excellent elasticity and thread very nicely. the ølands wheat flour that i get is stone ground, and they say that stone ground wheat keeps more of the nutrition and taste.

- emmermel - this is a heavier flour, also stone ground. it tends more towards the rye-type and you mix it with wheat flour to get a dough that you can form into a good bread that can stand on its own. the dough is quite soft and ends up a more golden brown (the loaf below used emmermel) and has an almost nutty, hearty flavor.

~ svejderug - a revived grain related to rye, but which gives a lighter bread than rye bread. the seeds were found in norway and it has taken forty years to bring them back to commercial production.

~ spelt - spelt probably makes the most reliably good, hearty bread. you want the dough to be quite moist and loose and it's best to use a bread pan, but if you mix half spelt and half ordinary flour, you can easily form a free-standing loaf. i often use spelt when i make focaccia, as you spread it out over the pan anyway.

i tend as well to buy organic wheat flour as my everyday white flour and that's both widely available in any grocery store and some rather special ones are available through aarstiderne, the folks who bring my weekly organic box. the wheat flour i'm using right now, for cakes as well as bread consists of 75% organically-grown wheat and 25% biodynamic, which has even stricter guidelines. it's also stone ground and is made by aurion.

we intend to get our own flour mill as well and we'll be able to source the grains for grinding ourselves through aurion, so we've got no intentions of going into farming them ourselves. but for now, i'm really happy with what's commercially available. plus, the good folks at aarstiderne bring it straight to my door - what could be easier?

emmerbrød (adapted from aarstiderne)

500ml warm water (2 C)
1 cube of fresh yeast or a generous spoonful of dry
a generous pinch of salt
1 spoonful of honey
1.5 C of emmer flour (or other special wheat sorts)
3.5 C of wheat flour (preferably organic)  (depending on the weather and your flour, you may need more than this)

combine the warm water, yeast, salt and honey in your mixer bowl and let it stand 5 minutes or so. add the emmer flour. once it's mixed, begin to add the regular flour until you have a soft, pliable dough. i let my kitchen-aid do this entire process, but you can also mix by hand in a bowl and then knead. the dough hook on the kitchen-aid does all of this for me, freeing me to do other things (like make a coffee).

place it in a large bowl that you've wiped with olive oil and allow it to rise for several hours, covered with a clean tea towel. turn it out onto the counter, sprinkled with a bit of the emmer flour and fold it over onto itself repeatedly until you have a nice, tight round loaf. place it on a baking sheet (i always use baking paper underneath, for ease of cleanup), slash across the top with a sharp knife, so it looks pretty, sprinkle with flaky salt and allow it to rise again for 30 minutes to an hour. if you lack time, you can actually put it directly into the oven and it'll be fine. bake for 30-40 minutes at 180°C/375°F. 

another bread i've been baking a lot of lately is this:

feta & pine nut bread

500ml (2 C) warm water
1 cube of fresh yeast (or a generous spoonful of dry)
generous pinch of salt
a good glug of a tasty, fragrant olive oil
1 spoonful of honey
6 C of flour - it can be a mixture of organic white flour and spelt or other wheat varieties (i use ølandshvede lately)
120 grams of feta, crumbled
100 grams of toasted pine nuts
a bit of chopped rosemary if you have it

combine the water, yeast, olive oil and honey and allow it to stand until the yeast bubbles. slowly add the flour and salt until it begins to form a ball on your dough hook (again, i totally let the kitchen-aid do the work). add the crumbled feta and pine nuts and rosemary. it may go rather loose after this and so you can add a bit more flour if desired. but better to leave the dough a bit more wet than you think it should be - it makes for a more moist loaf of bread.

set it to rise in a large bowl that you've wiped with olive oil. let it rise for several hours in a warm place under a clean tea towel. turn it out onto a floured countertop and form it into a nice round loaf. slash the top for prettiness and sprinkle with salt. allow it to rise for 30-60 minutes and bake. you can also just pop it into the oven, no problem. bake for 30-40 minutes at 180°C/375°F. you can tell it's done by knocking on it. it's hard to describe, but it just sounds done and you'll know what i mean if you try it.

* * *

baking bread is easy, but you can have the odd day where it behaves in a temperamental way. last friday, my bread was an utter failure and i'm honestly not sure why, but i do think the weather and especially the barometric pressure can have an effect. i had a loaf of feta & pine nut spelt that just would not bake properly - it was still strangely doughy on the inside, despite nearly an hour in the oven at 180°C. some brownies i baked the same day turned out strangely as well. some days are like that and you just have to try again.

i realize that many of you won't find these same sorts of grains, but i'll bet this phenomenon isn't unique to denmark - so check your grocery store and see if there aren't some special kinds of flour available. it is well worth it to try them out.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

making marmalade

as always at christmas, we gorged ourselves silly on sweet, succulent little clementines. however, once christmas was over, our consumption tapered off significantly. i didn't pick up on this fast enough and got another big box of them delivered with our weekly organic box in early january. thus, i found myself with a load of clementines in the basket and no one interested in eating them. so i went in search of a marmalade recipe.  i found one here, on an australian food blog (do go check it out, as his light was much better than mine and so the pictures are great). of course, i couldn't just follow the recipe, i had to stray from it, but he offered some good on saving all of the pith and seeds, wrapping them up in a little piece of muslin and throw it into your boil in order to take advantage of the natural pectin that's in the seeds.

mandarin marmalade

20 mandarins or clementines (approx. 2 kilos)
1 kilo organic caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
juice of 1 lemon
6 C (750ml) water

makes 3 250ml jars of marmalade.
  1. peel your oranges, saving about half of the best skins and all of the seeds and pith.
  2. break the mandarins apart (i made the mistake of leaving them in halves and oddly, they didn't really come apart, so my marmalade is rather...ah...chunky.
  3. place the pith and seeds in a small square of muslin cloth and either tie it shut, or sew a quick seam around the entire edge of it (like i did) to keep them trapped inside.
  4. finely slice the peel into small strips (see the original recipe website, he's got great pix of this step).
  5. place all of the ingredients in a heavy pan and stir. put it on the stove over medium heat and stir constantly until the sugar is melted and it comes to a gentle boil.
  6. turn down the heat to very low and allow it to simmer gently for at least two hours, stirring it occasionally. i actually left mine on the stove the whole afternoon - more like 4 hours or so - because it made the house smell heavenly.
  7. prepare your jars...i give mine a tour in the dishwasher and then boil the little rubber seals in a pan. the site where i got the inspiration for the recipe has an interesting method of setting them in the oven that i'm going to try the next time.
  8. fish out the parcel of seeds and pour the marmalade into the jars and seal them. if you have enough seeds, there should be enough natural pectin that the marmalade will set up, otherwise, you can use some purchased pectin.
it was enough to fill three 250 ml. jars - you could use smaller ones and give them as gifts. we've already used up one entire jar - i used the dregs yesterday when i made beth's bread & butter pudding, and i can highly recommend doing that.  and i'll admit that i have, more than once, just had a little saucer of the marmalade with my tea. i find this very russian of myself. and it feels a bit decadent, but virtuous too, since i made it myself with organic clementines that would otherwise have gone to waste.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Raspberry Linzer Hearts

I grew up making cookies with my mother and I've passed the same tradition down to my two daughters.
Tonight I was talking on the phone to my oldest daughter . . . and I told her that I had made Raspberry Linzer Hearts for Valentine's Day.  "Ohhh," she said, and I definitely caught a plaintive note in her voice.
I promised to freeze a few of them for her -- not knowing for sure if they DO freeze -- but just in case, here is an offering from mother to daughter:  a virtual "love heart."

This recipe comes from Mary Englebreit's Cookie Cookbook which I bought for my girls when they were beginning bakers.  The subtitle of the book is "The Queen's Best Recipes" -- which reminds me of my bossy older daughter, who has ruled over us all since she was about two years old.

Here's the editorial recommendation:
Don't bring these out for the Super Bowl:  they are labors of love for Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, and ladies' teas.

They actually aren't that difficult, especially if you are used to working with roll-out cookie dough.
But make them for family and friends and let them be impressed by how very hard you labored . . .

1 cup (3 1/2 ounces) walnuts*
1 cup (4 ounces) whole blanched almonds* (ensure your nuts are fresh)
8 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioners' (icing) sugar, plus a bit extra for decoration
2 large egg yolks
2 1/2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1/2 cornstarch (cornflour)
1 cup seedless raspberry jam

You will also need two heart-shaped cookie cutters -- approximately 2 1/2 inch and 1 1/2 inch.

Using a food processor, combine the walnuts and almonds and process, pulsing, until finely ground.  Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg yolks.  On a low speed, gradually add the flour and cornstarch, mixing just until incorporated.  Add the ground nuts and mix until blended.
Divide the dough (it will be stiff) into four pieces -- and shape each of these into a disk.  Wrap the disks in plastic and refrigerate until firm (2 to 4 hours).
Preheat the oven to 325F/160C.  Grease two baking sheets -- unless you use Silpats, as I do.  Or, use parchment paper to line your cookie sheets.
On a floured surface, roll out one piece of dough at a time until approximately 1/4 inch thick.
Usint a 2 1/2 inch heart-shaped cutter, cut out as many cookies as possible.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes -- depending on how thinly you rolled your cookies.  They should just be starting to turn slightly golden, but you don't want to brown them.  After they have slightly cooled on the baking sheet, transfer them to wire cooling racks.
For half of the cookies, you will need to cut out the large heart shape -- and then use a smaller (1 1/2 inch) heart-shaped cutter centered in the middle. 
Bake and cool the cutout hearts.
Very important:  Dust the cutout hearts with confectioners' sugar BEFORE you assemble them.
Spread a rounded teaspoon of jam onto each whole heart cookie bottom and then cover with the cutout heart tops.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bread and Butter Pudding

We spent last Saturday looking at houses in Oxford. 
It was one of those winter days that is much better spent inside -- what with the wind and the rain and bone-chilling damp. 
No house is going to look its best on such a day, even if it is filled with vases of red tulips and wood-burning fireplaces in every room.  But that fantasy scenario was far off the mark.  In reality, we were looking at run-down houses that were still horrendously expensive. Is there anything more depressing than looking at houses that have come on the market because their elderly occupants have recently died?  They have a forlorn quality like nothing else in the world. The howling wind just magnified the flaws of inadequate heating systems and ancient wooden sash windows which creaked in their frames. 

On the drive home from this grim outing, I caught part of a Radio 4 program about bread and butter pudding.  There is definitely a good reason why this solid old English pudding falls under the heading of "comfort food."  By the time we got home, I was so desperately hungry that I went straight into the kitchen to make myself one.  There was a rather virtuous minestrone soup for dinner, but I filled up on bread and butter pudding.  What is that saying?  Life is uncertain; eat dessert first.

This version is my own experiment, based on what I could remember from the radio program -- mainly, to "heat milk, cream and eggs until they were the temperature of blood."  It is creamier and more custardy than the English version, which can be a bit dry, but not as rich and decadent as American bread pudding.
I highly recommend it -- best just warm from the oven, but still quite good cold for breakfast the next morning.
It's vegetarian, although not as low-fat or high-fiber as the lentils that Julochka has been eating.  On the other hand, it has a pleasingly frugal quality that seems right for February.  It is the perfect use for stale bread, and I was also able to empty out two jars of orange marmalade that contained about two tablespoons each.

8 slices white bread
approximately two ounces of butter, plus a bit more to grease the pan
32 ounces (or 800 ml) of milk and cream combined -- I used two-thirds semi-skimmed milk and one-third single cream.  I think this is a fairly flexible arrangement, though.
2 ounces of caster sugar, plus extra sugar (demerara would be good) to sprinkle on the top
3 large eggs
enough orange marmalade -- maybe 4 tablespoons -- to cover four slices of bread
a large handful or raisins soaked in a couple of tablespoons of Grand Marnier
freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to a moderate heat -- about 350F.
Start soaking a generous handful of raisins in a couple of tablespoons of Grand Marnier (or Cointreau; or orange juice if you are teetotal).
Generously butter 8 slices of white bread.
Spread 4 slices with orange marmalade -- again, quantities need not be too specific and can depend somewhat on your liking for marmalade (or how much you have left in a jar you want to empty).
Make "sandwiches" from the bread, and then cut them into triangles.
Whisk the eggs into the cream, milk and sugar until thoroughly combined, and then carefully heat over a low flame until barely warm. 
Arrange the bread triangles in an oven-proof dish.  I like to use my oval two-quart Pyrex.
Throw the raisins over the bread, and then pour the liquid mixture over the top.
Leave to soak for about ten minutes -- and then, as a final touch, dust with freshly grated nutmeg and some coarse demerara sugar.

It will need about 35 minutes in the oven, and maybe 5 minutes before you can plunge in with a big spoon.

Monday, February 7, 2011

vegetarian lunch for one - beluga lentils

oddly enough, our commitment to eating less meat around here has lasted into February. and i'd have to say that i'm feeling increasingly comfortable with it and feeling less tempted to throw bacon into dishes at the last minute.

i find it easiest to eat vegetarian when i'm making lunch for myself. no one else's palate to accomodate allows me to experiment and explore new flavors. i'm also pushing myself to be a bit more inventive with what's at hand. here's the result from today...

beluga lentil lunch

300 grams of beluga lentils (little round black ones)
1 veggie bouillon cube
1 bay leaf
500 ml (2 cups) of water - you may need to add a bit more if it boils away before you think the lentils are done.
1 small onion, diced
a handful of fresh thyme
handful of hazelnuts, toasted in the pan and then chopped roughly
1 large spoonful of honey
juice of half a lemon
olive oil
soft, fresh goat cheese (mine was packed in oil with seasonings)
rinse the lentils, then cook on the stove, like you would rice, until the liquid boils mostly away - about 20 minutes.

while it's cooking, stir together a generous spoonful of honey and the juice of half a lemon, thyme and a drizzle of olive oil in a bowl, season with salt and pepper. dice onion and add it. toast the hazelnuts in a dry pan (keeping an eye on them so they don't burn). roll the hazelnuts in a towel to remove the husks and roughly chop them. once the lentils are done, drain off any excess water (tho' theoretically, there shouldn't be any) and add several large spoonsful of them to your dressing/onion bowl. stir well, top with soft goat cheese and toasted hazelnuts and enjoy your healthy and delicious solitary lunch. there will be enough lentils left over to do it again tomorrow.


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