sesame semolina breads

July 17, 2012 § 16 Comments

Breakfast – slices of sesame semolina toast, Farmer Mark’s fresh chèvre, apricot jam I just made a few days ago and my favorite locally roasted coffee!

Noted Italian baker, cookbook writer and culinary instructor Nick Malgieri’s semolina bread from Baking with Julia seemed to get mixed reviews from the Tuesdays with Dorie baking group. Semolina bread happens to be one of the non-whole grain breads I really like, probably because I also love pasta (yes, also the non-whole wheat type which tends to break up when I cook it). With a couple of tweaks, the bread was easy to get together in an afternoon in time for dinner with leftovers for toast the next morning. The original recipe can be found here and here if you don’t have the book. Changes I made to the recipe included:

  1. reducing the rise time for the sponge from 2 to 1 hour by using instant yeast in place of active dry
  2. reducing the salt from 2 to 1 teaspoon
  3. reducing both the bulk rise and shaped loaf proof times to an hour or less
  4. preheating the oven to 500°F, then dropping it to 425ºF for baking (with steam)
  5. reducing the bake time to just over 25 minutes (BTW at altitude, there’s no way to get to 210°F internal temperature without completely drying the loaf; remember water turns to steam and disappears at 200°F at a mile high)

Of course some of these changes are inter-related. Since salt slows yeast activity, the rise and proof times were shortened since I used a lot less salt. I think I actually reduced the salt a little too much. I used kosher salt, so a teaspoon of kosher is LESS than a teaspoon of fine grain salt (think, a bucket of gravel weighs less than the same bucket of sand, because there is a lot more air space between the larger pieces of gravel/Kosher salt). This could also account for some of the perceived saltiness of this recipe, besides different taste preferences.

I raised the baking temperature to get better oven rise (“oven spring”) and color on the loaves, and to keep the bread’s crumb moist. Breads can sometimes dry out from longer bake times needed to brown the crust at lower temperatures. And I always bake breads on a well heated stone (500°F) with some water to steam the oven, which also helps with oven spring and crust color.

The sponge was bubbly, fragrant and well-risen after an hour so I added the rest of the ingredients to make the dough.

The final dough quickly came together and I covered it to rise for about an hour.

The dough was slightly over risen after just an hour, so I gently rounded it to give the gluten a little more strength. I covered it with the bowl to protect it from drying while it rested for just 5-10 minutes.

I had mixed a double batch, so I divided the dough in half. I gently stretched and then folded the half into thirds, like a letter. I then rolled and gently pressed the dough together from top to bottom, gave the loaf a final roll on the board and tucked the ends in towards the bottom seam.

Here’s the shaped loaf before I coated it with raw sesame seeds. To do this, I dampened a kitchen towel and laid it on a sheet pan along with a generous amount of seeds. I rolled the top side of the loaf on the wet towel, and then on the bed of seeds. You could also spritz the top of the loaf with water from a sprayer.

Here are the shaped loaves after they’ve been rolled in seeds, ready to proof on the parchment-lined sheet pan.

I placed the pan with the loaves into a large plastic bag and trapped some air inside so they proofed without touching the plastic. Meanwhile I preheated the oven with a baking stone to 500°F for at least a half hour. Definitely needed the A/C on for the bake!

Here are the finished burnished loaves just out of the oven. The seeds made it a little harder to score the tops before baking, and if I scored a little deeper, the loaves could open up a little more. But I was pretty happy with the result of a simple tasty bread, good by itself, and made even better with farmstead chèvre and jam made from local seasonal fruit.

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quick and easy biscotti

July 3, 2012 § 11 Comments

What? An Alice Medrich recipe that doesn’t use chocolate! This Tuesday’s Baking with Julia recipe surprised (and pleased) me in another way too. I’ve never thought of biscotti (which means “twice cooked” in Italian) as being particularly easy or quick to make, but this recipe was both. Plus, it adapted well to a couple of changes I made, one being the addition of chocolate. After all, it is an Alice Medrich recipe.

Separately assemble the dry and wet ingredients. I substituted some whole grain flour for some of the white, and honey for the sugar. I reduced the amount of sweetener by almost half, since honey is both sweeter and denser than the same volume of sugar. There is a bit of baking soda in this recipe, which leavens the biscotti slightly giving it a less than rock hard texture that other butter-less biscotti have. If you need your biscotti to stand up to a dunk in your morning coffee, you can leave the baking soda out.

Add any variations you’d like to the appropriate wet or dry ingredient mix. I chose a very fragrant olive oil for both flavor and a little richness, and an orange liqueur to accompany the vanilla. Bittersweet chocolate chips went into the dry along with some whole already toasted hazelnuts I brought home from Portland OR (this also helped make the prep quick and easy)!

In classic dump-and-mix style, pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredient bowl. I used a bowl scraper to easily mix just until I got a fairly stiff but sticky dough.

Using well-floured hands, I shaped and patted the half portions of dough right onto the parchment-lined baking sheet. Whoops! I goofed and had the oven at 350ºF for the first bake, instead of 300°.

It’s important to let the logs cool long enough to settle so they don’t crumble when you slice them, but not so long that they harden and then shatter under the knife. Alice has a good trick to place the slices on a cooling rack set over the baking sheet for the second bake. It only took 10 minutes to dry the biscotti slices, and I certainly didn’t want any more color on them. I like the look you get when you slice whole nuts in biscotti.

And that was it! If you need an unfussy cookie to enjoy with ice cream or coffee, you’ll find the original recipe here and here. To keep it easy, skip the blanching of the hazelnuts in baking soda water and just bake them for 10-15 minutes at 350ºF and then rub off their skins while still warm in an old towel (they’ll stain). Just don’t forget to turn down the oven.

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