Pizzeria Mozza — So Yum

Mozza

Last night at 10:30 p.m., Ben and I finally dined at Pizzeria Mozza, the Nancy Silverton-Mario Batali-Joseph Bastianich pizza joint in Hollywood.

To start, we shared one order of fried squash blossoms — one order of delicately battered, ricotta-filled, piping-hot blossoms. Unbelievably tasty. For pizzas, we ordered the Ipswich clam (clams, oregano, pecorino and Parmigiano) and the Margherita (tomato, mozzarella and basil.) These wood-fired pizzas, I hate to admit, rival Bar’s, my absolute favorite spot on earth to eat pizza. (I’ve never been to Italy.) Two Amy’s in northwest Washington D.C. is a close second. Pizzeria Mozza, if I lived closer and if I didn’t need to make a reservation a month in advance, would surely be third. I loved everything about this place.

Well, nearly everything. Last year, shortly after Pizzeria Mozza opened, NY Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni gave it rave reviews, lauding in particular the butterscotch budino. The Times even provided the recipe. Ben took one bite and put his spoon down, declaring it cloyingly sweet. I agreed and then polished off the rest. No seriously, this dessert does not deserve the hype it has received. The little rosemary-pine nut short bread cookies provided on the side would have been the perfect finale to this long-anticipated dinner.

24. July 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Bread, Eating Locally, Travel | Leave a comment

S’mores and an Awesome Margarita Recipe

smores

A recipe for s’mores I believe is unnecessary. This recipe for margaritas, however, I must share with you.

Over the weekend, during a little trip to Half Moon Lake, Wisconsin to visit Ben’s family and friends, a classic, summer deluge left eight of us housebound. Not to worry. Within minutes, Tom and Liz Bennett had whipped up this concoction and delivered it in festive glasses to all the guests. With the fridge fully stocked with back-up pitchers, the storm and afternoon passed in no time.

Simple, tasty and lethal, the Bennetts’ margarita is a must try:

Bennetts’ Margarita
The original recipe calls for one can of each of the listed ingredients, but the Bennetts have tweaked the recipe slightly for taste. The recipe below, I considered perfection, but feel free to adjust according to taste.

3/4 of a 12-oz can limeade (the frozen can of concentrate)
1 beer, such as Corona
tequila
Sprite
salt for the glasses if desired

1. Place the limeade and beer in a pitcher. Discard (or reserve for another use) the remaining limeade. Fill the can halfway with tequila and add to the pitcher. Fill the can with Sprite and add to the pitcher. Stir. Taste. Adjust as needed. Pour into salted, ice-filled glasses.

22. July 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Desserts, Drinks | Leave a comment

Artisan Bread Round II, Partially Whole Wheat and Cooked in A Pot

abi52

So, I thought I’d give a brief update on my Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day escapades. This batch is my third, and I experimented with using nearly 50-percent whole-wheat flour. The dough rose just as beautifully as the 100-percent all-purpose flour batches, and held up just the same in the fridge during the week in which it was stored.

And, on a whim, I decided to use the Jim Lahey-Mark Bittman No-Knead Bread method of cooking — in a pre-heated, covered ceramic pot. Success! After 30 minutes in my Emile Henry dutch oven, the bread emerged with a crispy, golden crust. Since I don’t have a pizza stone, cooking in a pot is my best bet if I want to achieve the steam-injected-oven effect, which produces that professional-bakery crust. I have to say, however, that the bread tastes just as delicious when baked in a buttered Pyrex bowl — it doesn’t have the same crust, but the flavor is just the same, and the method is truly no-fuss.

Also, last time I neglected to include the Artisan Bread book’s official blog/Web site, which offers some great tips and additional recipes. Check out this grilled fruit pizza.

For the recipe for this bread, click here. For the baking method, follow the method described in this Mark Bittman NY Times article: The Secret of Great Bread: Let Time Do The Work

A loaf of 50-percent whole-wheat artisan bread in five minutes a day baked in a pot:

View of the 50-percent whole-wheat dough after rising overnight in the fridge.

18. July 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Bread | 6 comments

Fish En Papillote

fish en papillote

fish en papillote

I have decided I sound too freaky to speak on camera.

And so, I present to you a silent film: Fish en Papillote:


(The video seems to stall a bit at 1:18. Just help it along by scrolling past that point.)

Yesterday, 2,438 miles away from me, two very good friends resolved to make fish en papillote for their Sunday night dinner. I tried to explain the process to them via a series of emailed pictures, but I have yet to hear if they were any help. I hope this video might assist them in the future.

In any case, en papillote is currently my favorite way to prepare fish. These parchment packages are magical. How so? Let me tell you:

1. When cooked en papillote, a fish fillet retains its heat to the last bite. I love fish, but it’s tricky to cook — so easily overcooked — and it cools down quickly. These packages somehow manage to keep the fish fillets hot without drying them out one bit. And by keeping the fish piping hot, the en papillote method helps you eat more slowly, allowing you to savor your dinner, which I appreciate. I tend to eat very quickly. Like its a race or something.

2. Because I like to eat cake for breakfast these days, fish en papillote makes for a very healthy finish to the day. Seriously, not even a splash of olive oil or a dab of butter is used when assembling the packages. These added fats are truly unnecessary because all of the juices from the fish and the vegetables combine to make a nice little sauce. Served with a simple salad and homemade bread, fish en papillote makes a wonderful summer meal.

3. The packets can be prepared ahead of time — perfect for entertaining. I know summer is prime barbecue season, but it’s OK to give the grill a rest every now and then. You can still eat your en papillotes outside. (Warning: Because of the lemon juice and the salt, these packets should not be assembled for more than two or three hours ahead of time — I prepared them and stored them in the fridge for two hours when I made them for my parents last weekend.)

4. This recipe is so versatile. Although I’ve only experimented with sea bass and halibut, I suspect many fish species would take well to this preparation. Please let me know if you find success with any other varieties. Here, I’ve used Mexican sea bass because I can find it fresh at my Sunday farmers’ market.

Fill the packages with whatever you like: squash, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, scallions, herbs, etc.

The package keeps all of the juices inside, creating a steaming hot, tender, flaky package of goodness.

Ta-da! Perfectly cooked fish every time. Seriously, this recipe is foolproof.

Fish en Papillote
Serves 4

4 18×13-inch (approximately) pieces parchment paper
about 16 leaves Swiss chard, washed and dried
4 6-oz fish fillets, I buy the Mexican sea bass from my farmers’ market, but any fish will do
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 tablespoons chopped shallots
2 tablespoons caper
2 lemons, quartered
½ cup Nicoise or Kalamata olives, pitted
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 cup sliced zucchini
sliced basil, parsley or tarragon

1. Preheat the oven to 500ºF.

2. Lay one sheet of parchment paper on the counter and fold it in half lengthwise just to make a crease. Open the parchment paper. Place about four leaves of Swiss chard in the center of the parchment paper just below the centerfold. Top with fish fillet. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top with shallots and capers. Squeeze half a lemon on top and tuck lemon half next to fish. Sprinkle olives and tomatoes around fish.

3. Fold top half of paper over bottom half and begin folding tightly from the center to one of the sides. Go back to the center and fold tightly in the opposite direction. (See video for more assistance.)

4. Repeat with each fish. Place packages on a cookie sheet and cook about 10 minutes. (Estimate about 10 minutes per inch — if the fillets are a little bit thicker than one inch, add 1 or 2 minutes.)

13. July 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Entrees, Fish | 3 comments

L.A. Times Culinary SOS: Buttercake Bakery’s Marble Cake

buttercake

I so badly wanted to dislike this cake.

After reading the Ina Garten-inspired ingredient list, looking over the some-what complicated instructions, and spotting the calorie content per serving (so unnecessarily provided at the end of the recipe), I had that feeling I often get when I’m shopping for clothes — that I hope nothing fits so that I don’t have to buy anything.

Unfortunately, all of my negative energy did not help produce an inedible, underwhelming, unmemorable cake. Quite the contrary. This cake is incredibly delicious and irresistible. I wake up every morning thinking about it — thus far, the cake has gotten better and better with each passing day.

I’ve had this LA Times Culinary SOS recipe recipe tacked to my fridge for the past two weeks. I have to admit, I had serious doubts. I am so often disappointed with the recipes that call for a pound of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 4 eggs, etc.— it’s the recipes with yogurt and applesauce and olive oil that are so pleasantly surprising — both delicious and light or relatively light at least. Now, I’m sure some of you magicians out there could cut some of the butter or sugar in this recipe without compromising the flavor, but I encourage you to try the recipe once as is. I omitted the chocolate chips, which are unnecessary given that the recipe calls for the making of a cocoa syrup, which imparts a wonderful chocolate flavor.

Buttercake Bakery’s Marble Cake

Total time: 1½ hours
Servings 12 to 16

2½ cups sugar, divided
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup light corn syrup (I used brown rice syrup)
2½ teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
2 2/3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter (room temperature is ideal)
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup chocolate chips (optional — I did not use them. This cake really doesn’t need them.)
powdered sugar for dusting

1. In a small saucepan, whisk together ½ cup of the sugar, the cocoa powder and syrup with ½ cup hot water. Bring just to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Add ½ teaspoon of vanilla off the heat and set aside.

2. Heat the oven to 350ºF. Butter and lightly flour a 12-cup bundt pan. (I never flour anymore — it always burns for me. I coated the bundt pan with cooking spray.)

3. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer), cream the butter with the remaining sugar until light and fluffy. Whisk in the eggs one at a time until thoroughly incorporated, then whisk in the remaining vanilla.

4. Whisk about a third of the flour mixture into the batter, then a third of the milk. Continue whisking in the flour mixture and milk, alternately and a little at a time, until everything is added and the batter is light and smooth.

5. Gently fold in the chocolate chips. (I really think the chocolate chips are unncessary, but that’s your call.) Divide the batter into thirds. Pour a third of the batter into the prepared bundt pan.

6. Whisk the chocolate syrup with another third of batter, then pour this into the bundt pan. Pour the remaining third of batter over this, lightly swirl the batters with a wooden skewer or knife to give a “marble” effect and place the pan in the oven.

7. Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean and the cake springs back lightly when touched, about an hour. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack. Invert the cooled cake onto a serving platter and dust lightly with powdered sugar.

10. July 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Breakfast, Desserts | 4 comments

Good Stock

Tinga

I’m sort of embarrassed about posting this video, but after I shot it, I couldn’t resist. I sound like such a freak. I’m pretty sure I don’t sound like that normally.

Anyway, I happened to be preparing tinga, which I’ve described before, and thought it might be a good opportunity to talk about stock. I know the thought of making stock from scratch can feel like a lot of work. But making stock really is as simple as throwing chickens in a pot, covering them with water, and letting them simmer for a few hours. Additions such as onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, peppercorns, etc., of course, enhance the flavor of the stock, but if you don’t have them or don’t feel like adding them, it doesn’t matter. The gelatinous stock shown in the video was prepared with nothing more than chickens and water.

Let me tell you about this dish. I learned how to make it from a woman named Patricia who I worked with at Fork back in Philadelphia. Patricia often prepared tinga — chicken stewed with onions, tomatoes and chipotle in adobo sauce — for the “family meal” and served it with rice or soft tortillas. It’s incredibly delicious over crispy tortillas, too, served with a poached egg on top.

This recipe calls for one chicken, but it can be easily doubled. (Tinga freezes well — I have quarts of it ready to be thawed at a moment’s notice.) You also can make chicken stock with the carcass: After you pull off all of the meat, put the remaining bones back in the poaching liquid and let the mixture simmer for another couple of hours.

Chicken, pulled from its bones after simmering in water for about an hour.

Cilantro, soaking to remove dirt.

Chicken carcasses in water ready to be simmered.

Fat, scraped from a quart of chicken stock after sitting in the refrigerator overnight.

Stock, fat removed, ready to be frozen.

Homemade Chicken Stock

Note: As I mentioned above, making stock is as simple as throwing chickens in a pot, covering them with water, and letting them simmer for a few hours. Additions such as onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, peppercorns, etc., of course, enhance the flavor of the stock, but if you don’t have them or don’t feel like adding them, it doesn’t matter.

These days, I simply remove the legs with their bones from a whole chicken (to be used for one meal) as well as the breasts (to be used for another meal) and throw the two wings and remaining carcass into the stock pot. (Watch the video here for help breaking down a chicken.) I cover these bones/meat with water and let simmer for about 2.5 hours without any additions (carrots, celery, etc.), and I get about 1.5 qts of really flavorful stock.

The below recipe is what my mother does, but truly, you don’t have to be so fussy.

3 lbs chicken, such as a whole chicken or wings or legs or just bones
2 stalks celery
2 carrots
1/2 tsp. whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 onion, cut in half, studded with 4 cloves total (2 in each half)

1. Place chicken or chicken bones into a large pot. Add remaining ingredients. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat so that the water is gently simmering. Scoop off and discard any scum that bubbles up at the surface. Let simmer for about 2 hours.

2. Place a colander over a large bowl. Pour contents of stock pot through the colander. Discard all of these pieces once they have cooled. Transfer stock to storage containers and place in the fridge overnight or until completely chilled and fat has formed a solid layer at the top of the container. Scoop off this fat and discard. Freeze stock or store in fridge for at least a week.

Mexican Tinga
Serves 8

1 3-4 lb. chicken
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 white onion, sliced
1 small can chipotles
in adobo sauce
1½ cups canned crushed tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock, low-sodium or homemade
kosher salt to taste
1 bunch cilantro

1. Place chicken in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat so the water just simmers, and cook for 45 minutes. Turn off heat and transfer chicken to a large bowl to cool. When chicken is completely cool, remove the meat from the skin and bones, and place in a clean bowl. (Place bones and skin in a pot, cover with water, and let simmer for several hours. Strain, and transfer the stock to plastic storage containers. Refrigerate overnight. The following day, scrape off the fat and discard. Freeze stock.)

2. In a medium-sized soup pot add the oil and place over medium heat. Sauté the onion over medium heat until slightly caramelized, about 5 minutes. Add 3 of the chipotles and 1 tablespoon of the sauce from the small can of chipotles (or, if you like spice, add the whole can as I did).

3. Stir for one minute until the onions are nicely coated in sauce, then add the tomatoes and chicken stock. Season with a pinch of salt, then add the chicken meat to the pot, breaking up the big chunks as you add the meat.

4. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce heat and simmer mixture very gently for 30 minutes. Coarsely chop the cilantro, add to the pot and stir to incorporate. Taste mixture, add more salt if necessary. Can be made a day ahead. To reheat, simmer mixture very slowly adding chicken stock if liquid becomes too thick.

Onions and chipotles cooking before the chicken, stock and tomatoes are added.

09. July 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Chicken, Entrees, Mexican | 4 comments

Summer Squash Tart & Happy Fourth!

SummerSquashTart

Hi everyone. Happy Fourth. Just a quick post here. I made this tart, as you may recall, once last summer. This year’s version, made with squash entirely from my garden, is far more special.

I must admit, however, this recipe could be improved, namely because it calls for puff pastry. I don’t want to diss puff pastry or anything, but i’m just not wild about its taste. In a pinch, its great — it saved me this passed Monday when I needed to whip something up for a potluck. If I had more time, however, I might have experimented with a different base. The thin pizza dough, I don’t think would have held up too well for a potluck. A thicker pizza dough might work. Or a savory galette dough. Or the buttery cornmeal crust used in the heirloom tomato tart. I definitely want to try something other than puff pastry because everything else about the tart is great, from the ricotta-parsley spread to the caramelized onions to the blanched squash rounds to the barely melted feta crumbled on top at the last moments of baking.

Also, the pictures here show a tart that has been made with one-third of one sheet of puff pastry. The box I bought came with two units of puff pastry, and I used one and two-thirds for the potluck tart. I had left over ingredients and so made a mini tart, which I ate for breakfast on Tuesday.

Happy Fouth! Oh, and here’s a festive dessert for the holiday: Patriotic Ice Cream Sandwiches

First, you must blind bake the tart shell. I have a stash of beans I use over and over again for this purpose.


Then, you whisk together ricotta, parsley, an egg, and salt and pepper, and spread it across the bottom.

Then, you top the cheese spread with a layer of caramelized onions.

Then, you top the onions with blanched squash rounds. You bake it for 15-20 minutes. Brush it with butter. Bake it again. And you sprinkle on the feta and parsley at the very end.
Summer Squash Tart with Ricotta and Feta
Serves 6

1 10” x 13” sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
parchment paper
pie weights or dried beans wrapped in plastic
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
kosher salt and pepper to taste
2 lbs. mix of zucchini and yellow squash
½ cup fresh ricotta
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon butter, melted
¼ cup feta cheese

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place pastry on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. With a paring knife, gently score (being careful not to go all the way through) the pastry about one inch from the edge on all sides. Prick bottom of pastry all over with a fork, line center area only with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or beans. Bake for 20 minutes or until the edges are golden. Remove pan from oven and place on a cooling rack. Remove weights and parchment paper.

Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion. Season with salt and pepper and let sauté until slightly caramelized about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat to cool.

Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Cut the squash crosswise into ¼ – inch thick rounds. Add to the pot of boiling water, cook for 30 – 60 seconds, drain and let dry on a paper-towel lined cookie tray.

In a small bowl, whisk together the ricotta, egg and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste and spread onto puff pastry. Top with the onions. Arrange squash pieces in overlapping rows until tart is filled. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, brush with butter and return to the oven for five minutes longer. Remove pan from oven, sprinkle with feta, and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Lastly, Ben says Happy Fourth, too!

03. July 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Entrees, Gardening, Lunch, Vegetarian | 1 comment

Garden Update II

Garden

So far, the best part about having a garden has been the smells. Every time I pass by those cinder blocks, I brush my hand over the basil leaves or the tomato vines or the oregano plant, and in just that quick motion, the smells from the leaves get trapped in my palms — it’s amazing. In one second I smell as though I’ve been toiling in the weeds for hours.

I suppose once my garden actually begins producing food consistently, however, eating will become more rewarding than smelling. Thus far, we have eaten a fair amount of zucchini and a ton of Swiss chard. The tomatoes, both the cherry and the heirloom, as you can see, have finally started growing. So have the hot peppers. Soon, just as we had hoped, Ben and I will be able whip up pico de gallo at a moment’s notice. Except that we are currently out of cilantro. Our two plants, unfortunately, took a terrible turn.

Also, until I see the tomatoes turn red, I will not be completely excited. Two summers ago, back in Philadelphia, our two tomato plants produced hundreds of tomatoes but they never turned red. I’ve never prepared so many fried green tomatoes in my life. Which are delicious, but not what I want to eat every night for dinner, you know?

To see the complete transformation, click here: Cinder-Block Garden How-To, and here: Garden Update.

Hot Pepper Plant

Summer Squash

Zucchini

Swiss chard, grown from seed.

Cherry Tomatoes

Bowl of Goodies

View from above — quite a transformation from April 24.

29. June 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Gardening | 8 comments

Weekend Baking II: Open-Face Plum Cake

plums

I’m really liking my Sunday morning routine. I get up a little before Ben, find something to bake, and whip it up, or at least have it in the oven, before Ben wakes up. This tradition is now in its fourth week running, and this Sunday I’m planning on making a recipe for a marbled coffee cake printed in the culinary SOS column of the LA Times food section two weeks ago. The recipe is based on Buttercake Bakery’s moist butter bundt cake. I can hardly wait to try it. Maybe I’ll use that cathedral bundt pan I have failed to use for three years now.

Anyway, about this plum cake. This recipe appeared in a Martha Stewart Living issue last summer, and I have had it filed in the back of my mind ever since. Last Saturday morning, when Ben and I found ourselves in San Diego at the City Heights farmers’ market, I found the perfect reason to make this cake: baskets of plums — filled with at least 20 or so — selling for $4. We picked up some peaches, avocados and two red snapper fillets as well before heading home. The plums — sweet and juicy — however, turned out to be the prized purchase. I used ten in this cake, but plenty remained for Ben and me to snack on all week. I ate the last one this morning.

Bette Aaronson, the woman to whom this recipe is credited, has been making this recipe for more than 30 years. I can understand why. It takes only minutes to prepare; it’s delectable; it’s elegant; and it’s versatile: Apricots, nectarines and peaches, it has been noted, can be used in place of the plums. I’m guessing then that pluots, plumcots and apriums would also make acceptable substitutes. I can’t believe Martha didn’t make that clear. Also, I have halved the recipe — I thought a 9-inch cake for each Ben and me seemed a little excessive — but the original recipe, if you care to see, can be found online: Open-Face Plum Cake.


Open-Face Plum Cake
Adapted from a recipe printed in a summer 2007 Martha Stewart Living
For the recipe doubled, which was how it was printed, visit the Martha Stewart Living Web Site.

Yield = 1 9-inch cake, serves 10

¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
3/8 cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon
¼ cup whole milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small egg or ½ a large egg
6-10 plums depending on the size, halved and pitted
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for the pans

Confectioners’ sugar for sprinkling

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Butter a nine-inch round cake pan. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, combine the 3/8 cup sugar, milk, oil and egg. Fold into the flour mixture.

2. Pour batter into pan. Arrange plums, cut side up over batter.

3. Combine cinnamon and remaining sugar and sprinkle over the plums. Dot with butter. Bake until tops are dark golden, plums are soft and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool.

4. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.

26. June 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Breakfast, Desserts | 6 comments

Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day, Seriously

artisanbread2

Last week, NPR aired a brief program about rising food prices and how people are changing their behavior as a result. Listeners called in sharing their money-saving secrets: Some people had begun fishing and hunting, others had begun walking or riding their bikes to market, and others had begun learning to make dishes from scratch. One man resolved to learn how to bake bread.

I thought this last idea sounded a little odd. With bread often being one of the least expensive items at the market, surely, I thought, their are better ways to save money.

I decided to investigate. Over the weekend, I made a visit to Henry’s Market (to purchase goat’s milk for a rosemary-gelato round two attempt) where I recorded some prices. A one-pound loaf of La Brea bread (the gourmet bread created by Nancy Silverton sold at grocery stores nationwide) costs on average $5.35. (To give you a range, the least expensive La Brea Country White Sourdough loaf cost $3.99 a pound and the most expensive Olive loaf cost $6.99 for 14.5 ounces.) Now, La Brea bread is one of the more expensive varieties of bakery-style bread found at grocery stores, but it’s also one of the best, and I’ve chosen to use it as the measure in this experiment for that reason.

Now, on to Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I’ve been meaning to open this book since receiving it at Christmas from my father-in-law, who had read about it in this November 2007 NYTimes article: “Soon The Bread Will Be Making Itself”. Seriously, after I made the initial batch of starter, the bread took no more than five minutes of active time to prepare. (Plan on a 40 minute rise plus a 30 minute bake). And the result? Five stars. Ben and I ate almost an entire one-pound loaf in one sitting.

Preparing the loaves is so simple that I made bread on both Saturday and Sunday nights of this weekend, and I still have enough starter to prepare two more loaves this week. The starter keeps for at least two weeks in the refrigerator. This method, created by Jeff Hertzberg, a physician from Minneapolis, entails no kneading and can be prepared by the most novice of bread makers. If you have any inkling to learn to make bread or if you are a pro and desire a simpler method, buy this book: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking.

So, what does one of these loaves cost to prepare? Using the price of flour given by the American Farm Bureau — a 5-lb. bag of flour costs on average $2.39 — and prices for yeast and salt listed at Henry’s Market — a 3-lb. pound box of kosher salt costs $3.49 and a three-pack of yeast costs $2.39 — a one-pound loaf of homemade artisan bread costs about 60 cents to prepare from scratch. (Flour costs about 3 cents per ounce; yeast, 35 cents per teaspoon; and salt, 1 cent per teaspoon.) Using Henry’s Market prices, too, this estimate of 60 cents is likely on the high side.

The average price of a loaf of La Brea bread is almost nine times more expensive. Even the cheapest loaf of bakery-style bread, priced at $1.29 a pound, costs over twice as much as a loaf of homemade bread. Upon closer analysis it seems the man who called into the radio program actually might be on to something.

Even if saving money is not your goal, however, give this recipe a stab purely to experience how truly simple bread making at home can be. I’m dying to try other recipes in this book such as roasted red pepper fougasse, Italian semolina, and sun-dried tomato parmesan but for now, I’m extremely happy with the results of this master boule: It’s perfectly salty, moist and airy and delectable all around.

We ate three-quarters of this loaf in one sitting. It’s so yummy!

The Master Recipe: Boule
Adapted From Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François
Yield = Four 1-pound loaves. Recipe can be doubled or halved

3 cups lukewarm water
1½ T. granulated yeasts (1½ packets)
1½ T. kosher or other coarse salt
6½ cups (29.25 oz.) unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour,
measured with the scoop-and-sweep method

Mixing and Storing the Dough

1. Warm the water slightly: It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature, about 100ºF.

2. Add yeast and salt to the water in a five-quart bowl, or preferably, in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic food container or food-grade bucket. Don’t worry about getting it all to dissolve. (I added the yeast, then the flour and then the salt on top of the flour to avoid killing any of the yeast, but apparently this is unnecessary.)

3. Mix in the flour: Add all of the flour at once, measuring it with dry-ingredient measuring cups, by gently scooping the flour, then sweeping the top level with a knife or spatula; don’t press down into the flour as you scoop or you’ll throw off the measurement by compressing. Mix with a wooden spoon. If necessary, reach into your mixing vessel with very wet hands and press the mixture together. Don’t knead! It isn’t necessary. You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. Dough should be wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of the container.

4. Allow to rise: Cover with a lid (not airtight) that fits well to the container you’re using. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), approximately two hours. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period, but fully refrigerated dough is less sticky and is easier to work with. So, the first time you try this method, it’s best to refrigerate the dough overnight before shaping a loaf.


On Baking Day:

5. Sprinkle the surface of your refrigerated dough with flour. Pull up and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size), using a serrated knife. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won’t stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. The correctly shaped final product will be smooth and cohesive. The entire process should take no more than 30 to 60 seconds.

6. Place the shaped ball on a cornmeal-covered pizza peel. (If you aren’t planning on baking the bread on a pizza stone, just let the dough rest on a cornmeal-covered cutting board. Allow the loaf (uncovered) to rest on the peel for about 40 minutes.


7. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450ºF, with a baking stone placed on the lowest rack. (If you don’t have a stone, don’t worry.) Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on any other shelf that won’t interfere with the rising bread. (This helps to make the crust crispy, but your bread will still be delicious if you omit this step.)

8. Dust the top of the loaf liberally with flour, which will allow the slashing knife to pass without sticking. Make several ¼-inch-deep slashes across the bread. (Again, if you omit this step, your bread will taste the same.)

9. With a quick forward jerking motion of the wrist, slide the loaf off the pizza peel and onto the preheated stone. (Alternatively, butter a Pyrex dish or baking pan and place the bread in the pan.) Quickly but carefully pour about one cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray and close the oven door to trap the steam. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch. Allow to cool completely, preferably on a wire rack.

If you bake frequently, purchase yeast in bulk bags and store in your refrigerator or freezer in an airtight container. You’ll save a ton of money:

Here are two shots of an unslashed loaf baked in a buttered one-quart Pyrex dish. The difference in crust texture, in my opinion, is indetectable. If you don’t have a pizza stone and don’t feel like going through the trouble of a steam tray, this method, outlined in the recipe, works just fine.

22. June 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Bread | 90 comments

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