Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Manna from Heaven

Yesterday I headed out at 8am to go to my weekly volunteer gig at a senior center down in deep South Philly.  I left earlier than I normally would because I knew plenty of a**hats had not made any effort to clear any snow off their sidewalks from either of the past two snowstorms.  Anyone who knows me knows I fall - I fall on ice, I fall in the rain, I fall in the sun... I am a klutz and usually find away to hurt myself in any situation - once bringing home gravel from Pompeii embedded in my hands from skidding down an ancient road.  As soon as the first snow fall hits, I look like a little old lady shuffling carefully and slowly over the uncleared sidewalks.  After finally making it to the bus stop (which was perfectly cleared) and waiting 30 minutes for the bus, a nice man walking by informed me that the bus had been detoured a few blocks down... after walking two more blocks & waiting another 30 minutes I called it a day & went home.  The center understood the transportation issue.

What is better than making some homemade bread when staying in on a cold day.  The manual that came with my beautiful & wonderful KitchenAid stand mixer has some great bread recipes.  The other week I made rye bread.  It was yummy fresh, but even great stale & crusty in the bottom of a bowl of my cabbage potato soup.  This time I decided to try my hand at French bread.

Having a KitchenAid stand mixer really makes short work of mixing and kneading.  Every came together nicely.  The dough was warm and smelt nice & yeasty.  I always concerned with the next step, the first rise.  My apartment is never very warm in the winter (I prefer a cool apartment), so I decided to try a new method.  I got down my big metal bowl and warmed it under hot tap water.  I also turned the oven on 350.  After drying the bowl well, I set the dough in there to rest, covered it, & placed it on the back corner of the stove.  Apparently this extra attention to details was just what the little yeasty bits needed to get going.  In no time the dough was bubbling up to an airy cloud.  Never have I seen any of my doughs rise so beautifully.

Next I shaped it and covered it on the pan for the second rise.  This is where things got questionable.  I peaked under the towel and saw that instead of rising up the dough was spreading out creating two fat French breads connected like those packaged hotdog rolls.  I tried to separate them and started tucking some of the dough back under one of the breads to make it more baguette shaped.  It just looked ugly, very ugly.  I left the other fat bread fat and left them both alone to finish the second rise.

The most important part of a baguette is getting the crust just right.  If you have had good fresh French bread you know what I am talking about.  I had read many tips on how to achieve the elusive perfect crust.  One website I really love, Steamy Kitchen, suggested tossing a 1/2 cup of water onto the floor of my oven and shutting the door quick to trap the steam in the oven.  While I will try almost any recipe she posts and really love her ideas, this just seemed a little questionable to me.  I pictured myself standing in the apartment management office explaining how I broke/shorted out my oven/the building's electricity.  So I went with a different method to create the same affect.  Before popping the tray in the oven, I placed a small dish with warm water in the rack below the rack where I would be cooking the bread.  And boy did it produce steam.  I couldn't capture it with my camera, but steam wafted up from closed oven door as the bread cooked.

With five minutes left in cooking, I pulled the bread out to give it a quick egg white wash and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.  Popped the tray back in to the oven and waited the additional 5 minutes.  It smelt like bread, looked like bread (if not exactly like a couple of baguettes).  I had just enough patience to let it cool enough to handle.  I sliced into my fat loaf thru a wonderfully crusty crust, slathered the steaming slice with butter, and mmmmmmmmmm.... it may not be as good as a real bakery, but not bad for a novice with a lil apartment sized oven.

I do have some ideas for the oddly shaped French bread.  The wider one would be great for a picnic sized pressed sandwich like this.  The one that more closely resembled an actual baguette would also make a great garlic bread slathered and toasted with a fresh garlic butter & maybe some fresh chopped tomatoes.

Click Read More to see the KitchenAid bread recipes I used...

KitchenAid French Bread

2 packages active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups water (105F to 115 F)
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon melted margarine or butter
7 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1 egg white
1 tablespoon cold water

Dissolve yeast in warm water in warmed mixer bowl. Add salt, butter, and flour. Attach bowl & dough hook to mixer, turn to Speed 2 and mix about 1 minute or until well blended. Knead on Speed 2 about 2 minutes longer. Dough will be sticky.

Put dough in large greased bowl, turning to coat. Cover and let rise in warm place, free from draft, about 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk. Punch dough down and divide in half.

Roll each half into 12" x 15" rectangle. Roll dough tightly, from longest side, tapering ends, if needed/wanted. Put loaves on greased baking sheets that have been dusted with cornmeal. Cover and let rise in warm place, free from draft, about 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk.

With sharp knife, make 4 diagonal cuts on top of each loaf. Bake at 450F for 25 minutes, and then remove from oven. Beat egg white and water together and brush each loaf with this mix. Return to the oven and bake 5 minutes longer. Remove from baking sheets and cool on wire racks.

KitchenAid Light Rye Bread

2 (1/4 ounce) packages active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water (105 F-115 F)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup light molasses
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons margarine
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1 cup boiling water
2 cups rye flour
3 1/2-4 cups all-purpose flour

Mix together honey, molasses, salt, butter, caraway, and boiling water. Stir until dissolved together. Cool a few minutes till lukewarm.

Dissolve yeast in warm water in warmed mixer bowl. Add luke warm honey mixture rye flour, & 1 cup of all-purpose flour. Attach bowl & dough hook to mixer. Turn to speed 2 & mix about 1 minute or until well mixed. Stop & scrape bowl if necessary.

Continue on Speed 2, add remaining all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup at a time, and mix about 2 minutes, or until dough clings to hook & cleans sides of bowl. Knead on Speed 2 about 2 minutes longer.

Place in greased bowl, turning dough so that greased side is up. Cover. Let rise in warm place away from drafts about 1 hour or until double in bulk.

Punch down and divide in half. Shape each half into a round loaf. Place on two greased baking sheets. Cover. Let rise in warm place, free from draft, 45-60 minutes or until double in bulk.

Bake 350 F for 30-45 minutes. Cover with foil last 15 minutes of baking if loves brown too fast. Remove from baking sheets immediately & cool on wire racks.

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