Sunday, March 1, 2015

Nattalia's Caraway Rye Bread

(2 small loaves)

Hands down, my mum makes the best rye bread. In my opinion it's way better than what the local bakery sells. Her bread has a nice crisp crust, a flavorful and chewy interior which isn't too dense or too fluffy.

Starting off with her base recipe, she'll make changes depending on what she has on hand, but her method, gleaned from various cookbooks and through trial and error remains the same. I did notice all of my mum's flours are from Bob's Red Mill. I asked her about that and she told me she basically stocks up on whichever flour happens to be on sale, opting for organic whenever possible. She also likes the King Arthur brand. Often she adds rye flakes if she has them, this time she added a 7 grain cereal mix with flaxseed instead.

This recipe turned into a two week process (mostly waiting). You could finish the bread sooner if you prefer, however the flavor of the dough improves the longer it sits in the refrigerator (up to two weeks).

caraway rye bread
1 1/2  cups rye flour
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp dry Bob's Red Mill 7 grain hot cereal (can replace with rye flour or rye flakes)
2 tbsp vital wheat gluten
2 1/4 tsp dry yeast (my mum prefers Fleischmann's, although sometimes she uses Saf-Instant)
2 1/4 tsp caraway seeds 
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 cups water

equipment used
11 cup Cuisinart food processor
large glass container with lid (for storing the dough in the refrigerator)
parchment paper
baking stone
10 ice cubes
ovenproof metal container (to hold ice cubes)

Into a bowl or using a large measuring cup, measure out the rye flour, whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, cereal, and gluten . You can change things up a bit if you like, but the final (flour) measurement needs to equal 4 cups.

Dump the flour mixture into the bowl of an 11 cup food processor. Add the yeast, caraway seeds and salt. Run the processor for about 10 seconds to combine.

This was where things got interesting for me. My mum took the temperature of her flour which was about 70°F. and to that added water which was 60°F. She told me the combined temperatures need to be 130°F for a Cuisinart or Kitchenaid food processor. I think the combined temperatures for a Braun was 150°F. She told me she came across this procedure in Charles van Over's "The Best Bread Ever".

She poured the water over the flour and stirred it up a bit with a spoon. She allowed the mixture to sit in her food processor for about two minutes. Then she pulsed everything for 45 seconds, stopping when a soft, gooey ball of dough had formed. She again took the temperature of the dough and was pleased when it registered about 74°F. She told me the ideal temperature is about 75°F, with anything from 71°F to 79°F being acceptable. If the dough is warmer than 80°F, then place it into the refrigerator for several minutes to cool down.

Butter a glass container, one with a lid that is large enough to hold the dough (after it's risen). Drop in the dough and leave it out on the counter  until it has doubled in size; about 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate up to 2 weeks. My mum told me that the flavor improves the longer it sits in the refrigerator. I imagine you could bake it up after a day or two if you can't wait.

on the day of baking
Prepare a cornstarch glaze for brushing onto the loaves. You can keep any that's leftover refrigerated for several weeks.

cornstarch glaze
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup cold water

Combine the cornstarch and salt in a small pot. Add a small amount of water and whisk until it is smooth. Slowly whisk in the rest of the water. Heat the mixture while stirring, until it thickens. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Remove the container of dough from the refrigerator . Lightly flour a surface and dump the dough onto it. It's essential that the dough be handled minimally. Cut it in half and then gently roll and shape each half into a loaf. Place onto a piece of parchment paper and allow to rise for about an hour or so. The bread might not completely double in size. My mum's loaves kind of relaxed sideways as they came to room temperature.

About an hour before the bread is ready to bake, preheat the oven (and stone) to 500°F. Place the stone onto the top rack which should be in the middle of the oven. The second rack should be below that holding a metal pan for the ice cubes which will be added later. My mum picked up a small cast iron frying pan just for holding the ice cubes. It doesn't warp as it heats up.

Just before the bread is ready to be baked, brush each loaf with the reserved cornstarch mixture. Then using a very sharp knife, cut a few slits (about 1/2 an inch deep) across the top of each loaf.

Carefully place them onto the preheated stone. Add the ice cubes to the pan and close the oven door. Reduce the temperature to 450°F. and bake for about 30 minutes or until the loaves are done.

Remove the bread from the oven. Allow to cool completely on a rack, before cutting.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Poached Pears with Dark Chocolate Sauce

(about 6-8 servings)

If you need a dessert that travels well or something to end a heavy meal, this recipe might work for you. Peeled D'Anjou pears are poached in a spiced, not too sweet liquid, then served with a dark chocolate sauce. The combination is terrific.

1 medium orange
1 small lemon
2 cups white wine
2 cups water
1/4 cup honey
1 1/2 star anise
1 3" cinnamon stick
5 allspice berries
6 D'Anjou pears

With a sharp knife carefully cut the peels off  both the orange and lemon taking care to get as little of the white pith as possible. When you have removed the peels, squeeze the juice from both fruits and pour into a pot.

Add the wine, water, honey, star anise, cinnamon stick and allspice berries. Bring the liquid to a gentle simmer. Don't worry if it foams up a bit.

Meanwhile, peel the pears. Cut them in half lengthwise and remove the cores.

Drop the pears into the hot liquid and gently simmer for about 20-30 minutes or until the fruit can easily be pierced with a sharp knife. Remove the pears from the pot and increase the heat slightly.

Simmer the liquid until it has reduced to about a cup; about 30 minutes. Strain the sauce. It will not thicken but it will be a very flavorful concentrated liquid. Allow to cool.

Meanwhile, prepare the chocolate sauce.

dark chocolate sauce
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 lb dark (72% cacao) chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp dark rum or vanilla extract

Heat the cream until you notice small bubbles forming around the edges, Don't allow the cream to come to a boil.

Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate. Continue stirring until the chocolate has completely melted and you have a smooth sauce. Stir in the rum or vanilla extract.

Pour the sauce into a **small glass jar if you aren't using it right away.

To serve, place one or two pear halves onto a plate or into small bowl. Drizzle about 1-2 tablespoons of the reduced poaching sauce over the pears followed by a tablespoon or two of the chocolate sauce.

**If the chocolate sauce has thickened too much as it cooled, then don't reheat it on the stove top or microwave. If the sauce gets too hot it might curdle. Just pour some hot tap water into a bowl and then place the jar with the sauce into the hot bath for about 2 minutes. The water shouldn't come up all the way to the top; about two thirds of the way up is fine.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Mediterranean Green Beans Braised in Tomatoes

( 4 servings)

There's something very satisfying about braised green beans. For me in some respects they are close to the ultimate comfort food. Served with a bit of rice, is all I need.

Cooking the beans in an aromatic sauce of tomatoes and onions creates a dish that tastes rich and flavorful. The richest element here is the olive oil which you could easily reduce by half if using a non-stick pot.

Braised green beans are delicious served hot or at room temperature. I usually make this dish with dill and mint, however this time I swapped those out for fennel seeds, cardamom and coriander. Those flavors did not disappoint; they were an interesting and pleasing change.

1 tbsp olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp crushed fennel seeds
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1 medium onion, chopped
14oz can diced tomatoes
1 lb green beans, trimmed (if using frozen, defrost first)
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a pot fitted with a lid.

Stir in the garlic, fennel seeds, cardamom and coriander. When the mixture becomes fragrant after 30 seconds or so, quickly stir in the onions. Cook until the onions become soft and translucent; about 5 minutes.

Stir in the diced tomatoes and their liquid. Cook for a minute or two, then stir in the green beans.

Cover the pot with a lid and reduce the heat to low. Cook for about 25-40 minutes, depending on how soft you like your green beans. Check halfway through and add a small amount of water if the beans appear too dry.

Taste and add salt and pepper, if needed.

Serve hot or at room temperature. These beans reheat really well, in case you decide to double the recipe.