Saturday, July 31, 2010

Everyday Bread

Everyday bread

There is an undeniable mystique around bread baking. So many unfamiliar terms, so many techniques, starters, proportions, secrets that have been passed down through generations. It's intimidating, to say the least, and it kept me from baking bread until about a year ago.

Everyday bread

Thankfully, there are lots of places to start for a yeast noob like me. Kind of like this bread, which is pretty much full proof (or fool proof). My friend Gabe, who is Italian, brought this over to a BBQ recently and we couldn't get enough, and when I got the recipe, I was floored by how easy it was to make. I couldn't help making one little change, though - I brushed the bread with a mix of olive oil, garlic and herbs, which gave it a crispy, garlicky crust that's impossible to resist. This is truly a bread you can make every day - and should make every day because it's dang good.

Everyday bread
Everyday bread

Gabe's Everyday Bread

400 g all purpose flour***
1 tsp salt
240 g water at 115F
1 tsp active yeast
1 tablespoon honey

For topping:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon dried Italian herb mix

***Flour: using the right flour for bread-making really does matter. I know, because I started off using cheaper flour and when I switched to a better brand, I could really taste the difference. So, even though I generally avoid giving brand recommendations, I'm going to break my own rule here and tell you that for bread, I almost always use the King Arthur brand of flour.

Whisk flour and salt in a mixer bowl. Heat water to 115F and add yeast and honey.

Pour the water mixture into the flour and knead with the dough hook for 5-10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. It shouldn't be very sticky - if it is, knead in a bit more flour until the dough is still soft and only very slightly sticky.

Rub or spray a large bowl with olive oil and put the dough inside, turning it to coat with oil. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft free place until doubles in size (about an hour).

Preheat the oven to 450F.

Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and shape into a loaf (I made mine round).

Combine olive oil, crushed garlic and herbs, and brush the bread with about 3/4 of the mixture.

Place the loaf in a cast iron, a dutch oven or a baking sheet (I also put a layer of wax paper sprayed with olive oil under the bread) and bake for about 30 minutes. The crust should be a deep golden color and the bread should sound hollow when tapped from the side.

Immediately upon taking the bread out of the oven, brush again with the olive oil/garlic mixture and let cool to room temperature. Enjoy!

Continued after the jump...

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tomato Goat Cheese Tarts in an Herb Parmesan Crust


I have to give myself a budget at the farmer's market because I tend to go a little crazy there in the summer. It's all the smells, you see, and the colors that make me lose my head - the tiny red strawberries and the golden blush of peaches and apricots, side by side with boxes of fragrant basil, shiny yellow squash and sweet peppers. Everything calls out to me, the asparagus and the big white leeks, home-made hummus, local goat cheese and honeys, and humble cucumbers, not nearly as straight or perfect as at the supermarkets and therefore more beautiful. But the one thing that I can never pass by are tomatoes. Summer tomatoes, to be specific. They are a story onto themselves.


As soon as I saw these, I knew that they must be made into mini tarts for our lunch today. I could almost taste them, sweet and juicy and warm from the oven, encased in a buttery Parmesan and herb crust.


The crust is not difficult to make at all, do not be afraid of it. The whole wheat flour and the Parmesan take it to another level, and the smell of it as you are making it, and as it's coming out of the oven is kind of insane. I mean, you want to stop right there and just break off the crunchy, herby pieces that give off that unmistakable and irresistible scent of toasted cheese. But then you top them off with the goat cheese and the tomatoes, and add a bit of really good salt, and you'll be just so, so happy that you waited for the whole thing to come together. A nice glass of cold, crisp wine finishes these off perfectly, and though I was not able to enjoy them in exactly that way, it did not for one second detract from their deliciousness.


Tomato Goat Cheese Tarts in an Herb Parmesan Crust
Makes one 9-10" tart or four 4" mini tarts

Pate Brisee
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter, chilled or frozen
2 tbsp grated Parmesan
1 tbsp dried Italian herbs (mine were a mix of oregano, basil and thyme)
2-4 tbsp ice water

4 oz goat cheese, softened
1/8-1/4 cup milk
1 lb (or thereabouts) of assorted tomatoes
1 tbsp chopped basil
salt and pepper

To make the crust:

Whisk flours, salt, Parmesan and herbs together in a large bowl. Cut butter into small squares and scatter on top of the dry ingredients. With a pastry cutter, quickly cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the biggest pieces are no larger than a small pea. Dribble in water, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough holds together when pinched. Refrigerate for ten minutes.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured counter and press together into a ball. [At this point, you can wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for an hour to let the flour absorb the water, but I didn't do this because I wanted a press in crust. If you like rolling out your crusts, refrigerate for an hour and then roll it out.]

If making mini tartlets, divide the dough into four pieces. If not, keep it in one piece. Spray or butter the tart pans and, working quickly so that the pieces of butter don't melt, press the crumbly dough into the pans. Refrigerate.

Heat the oven to 375F. Press parchment paper into the tart pans and fill with beans/rice/baking weights. Pierce the bottom of each crust several times with a fork. Bake for about 20-30 minutes, until the crusts are beginning to turn golden. Cool for 10 minutes.

While the crusts are baking, make the filling:

Put the goat cheese into a small bowl and add milk gradually until the mixture is roughly the consistency of sour cream. Slice the tomatoes and basil.

When the tart crusts are done, divide the goat cheese mixture between them and top with tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and chopped basil. Bake for another 30 minutes.

I like these warm!

Continued after the jump...