Red Pepper Fougasse (ABi5!)

To be honest, I would have never made this if it wasn’t for my future mother-in-law’s request. She was perusing the Internet and lo and behold, came upon the Artisan Bread in Five site when the Red Pepper Fougasse was the top post on the frontpage. She fell in love, apparently, and when she showed the office, she said, “I bet Kate can make that. She makes stuff like that all the time!”

So I did, thanks to the wonderful ABi5 folks, Zoë and Jeff, who are kind enough to post their recipes online. I followed the recipe almost exactly, and it turned out beautifully. The only difference I made was in the Master Dough – on a whim, I made a wheat dough (half wheat and half regular all-purpose).

The recipe is posted here, of course, and I highly suggest you try it out, especially if you like savory filled breads. Not only my future mother-in-law, but everyone in the family enjoyed this bread, and these can be some picky people! Red pepper fougasse is not usually served next to green beans and pot roast here! What more of a recommendation could you want?

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In a domestic frenzy.

I always knew there was something to be said for housewives and stay-at-home moms (or dads) in the world, but I never really thought about it being so much… work. I guess I should’ve known better – I’m always wishing I had more time to clean the house, or bake (something) or cook for leftovers, or get ready for work tomorrow. It’s really that I just suck at time management, but having a full sunup to sundown schedule usually doesn’t help. (Aided by a great overappreciation for my ‘free days,’ of course.)

Though my big room still isn’t clean by any means, at least I’ve gotten comfortable in my kitchen. I cleaned it up and reorganized some things Friday, and I’ve been cooking ever since. Both because I needed to so I’d have food for the rest of the week, and because I’m trying to readjust my eating habits again. I’ve even gone so far as to (sort of) plan a menu for suppers and leftovers for the work week. Actually, this domestic, homegrown frenzy of mine hit late last week, when I found a recipe for creme fraiche, which I made, and then decided I wanted homemade mayo, too. I also found some recipes for butter, both cultured and non, which I will be making when my current butter stores are used up.

Hardboiled eggs have been waiting on me to do something with them, ever since I (re)boiled them middle of last week. I planned on egg salad, a favorite of mine, but my hardboiling prowess from my highschool years seems to have failed me. I couldn’t get a hardboiled egg cooked right to save my life. Which brings me to the great Egg Experiment – can you reboil eggs? Turns out that yes you can, as long as the eggs are kept cold in the meantime (to reduce the possibility of botulism, of course). Just pop them in cold water, bring them to a boil, cover and turn off the heat. In short, treat them like raw eggs. The yolks may not be pretty, but they’re solid. I can eat them. Maybe soon I’ll rediscover my boiling niche and I won’t have to make twice-boiled eggs. I hope.

In any case, I took my hardboiled eggs, my creme fraiche and my homemade mayo and voila! made homemade egg salad! With a little paprika, a little cayenne and a little fresh-ground black pepper, I was set to go. Egg salad for lunch the rest of the week! I’m in the process of making pitas right now; my dough is resting comfortably in an oiled bowl. I found the recipe here on Baker’s Banter, the King Arthur Flour blog,
and I think what drew me to it most was PJ’s pita dilemma. PJ’s pitas don’t always rise, whether because of the heat of the oven or the yeast or maybe she just doesn’t always hold her mouth right. My little tiny oven has a tendency to run hot, so I’m hoping that maybe mine will pop prettily. I’m expecting to make up some egg salad stuffed sammies to take to work this week, and maybe I’ll mix up a batch of grilled chicken salad with green grapes, cubed apples and celery to wrap up in some pita bread, too. I think the best part is that I don’t have to despair about buying pitas – or any bread, for that matter – because of high food costs anymore. I can make my own ‘specialty’ foods, breads included.

I used to have a serious fear of bread-making, but no longer. I’m actually getting pretty good at mixing up full batches of soft wheat versions of Jayne’s Soft White Bread. A full batch lasts me about two and a half to three weeks, depending on how many sandwiches I eat (lately, it’s been a lot). I’m moving on to other things than loaf bread now, starting with these pitas. Sometime this week, I plan on making up a batch of Homesick Texan’s tortillas for some black bean and corn burritos (maybe chicken fajitas). And one of these days, when I use up the copious amounts of dry fettucine and spaghetti in my pantry closet, I’m going to attempt fresh pasta sans pasta machine.

For now, though, I just wanted to share my domestic exploits in bread-making with y’all. I’m off to finish laundry now, before it takes over my bed.

*Sorry to anyone who’s missing photos on here. My machine doesn’t like to download anything from either of my available cameras, and until I figure out why and how to fix it, I can only download pictures at work. Which isn’t always feasible. Thanks for your patience, though.

Soft wheat bread.

After finding a recipe for white bread on The Barefoot Kitchen Witch, I knew it was time to try out another bread escapade. Recall that my last successful bread escapade involved VeganYumYum’s Poolish Foccacia, and it was delicious. Time-consuming and a learning experience to be sure. This time, I was going to make sure I wasn’t caught off guard (I failed at that, by the way).

I’ve been wanting to make wheat bread for a while, to be honest. I like making bread in general; I just wish I had all the time I needed for it and I often don’t lately. I don’t know why, but I’ve been waiting on the right recipe to get started again (and for my supply of storebought loaf bread to finally vanish, which it did at supper last night). I’ve got plenty of recipes, including several pages’ worth out of Country Wisdom & Know-How, but none of them really called to me. Jayne’s was apparently the recipe and I’m so glad I used it.

The first thing that drew me to it was that it read very simply. Not a bunch of sugar added, or lots of involved steps for mixing, or mixing by hand forever if one doesn’t own a stand mixer. Just mix and let the yeast bloom, then mix in dry and wet ingredients, stir it all up, knead it for a bit and then… let it rest. Let it rise.

When the yeast was blooming, I’ll admit: I didn’t like the smell, at first. It reminded me of the fridge in the last apartment, when my roommate wouldn’t clean it out and I hadn’t really been home much. Yuck. But it grew on me (no pun intended!), and I contented myself with knowing that by the time the yeast had done its job, the house would smell fantastic.

When the dough finally started coming away from the bowl and sticking together proper, I stopped mixing it. I learned my lesson from the foccacia – I didn’t want to overexcite my gluten. I slapped it out on my recently-acquired floured board and kneaded it. Knead your bread lovingly. Don’t kill it. (Although I will admit I slapped it down on the board a couple of times more. Is that dough abuse? Or tough love?) I stopped kneading when it felt right, although little needling voices in the back of my head told me ‘No! It’s too sticky! It needs more work! More flour!’ I oiled up my big bowl, ignored those voices and let my dough rest comfortably in its bed of oil, under cover of plastic. Then I went to turn out horses from the barn and do my chores. I figured the hour and a half I’d be gone would be plenty of time, and I wouldn’t feel the need to check it every ten minutes.

This is where I started to get concerned. I came back from chores, washed the feed dust and hay off my hands and punched the dough back down. I let it rise again (seen above) and it only rose three-quarters of the way as before. Maybe I let it go too far the first time? I chalked it up to the mix of bread flours – I used half white wheat and half unbleached regular to get what I wanted. Eventually, I’d decided it had gone plenty of time without rising further and was ready to get prepped for baking.

I took it out, shaped it as directed and let them rest while I got together my loaf pans and started the oven to preheating. My confidence got a little boost here – when I separated the dough by hand, having no scraper blade to my name, the dough was visibly elastic and resistant to coming apart. It was a little relief, backed up when I patted out the balls for further shaping.

The dough was remarkably springy, which made me very happy. I didn’t want to lose this batch of dough to neglect like the last time I tried for loaf bread (the time of which we do not speak, where 354’s momma tried to bake it for me and it came out like rocks). I started to oil the pans, then decided against it because they were non-stick to the touch, and I didn’t want to grease up my bread. I had to go on a little faith. I patted out my dough balls, rolled them up and sealed the edges, then flipped them into their respective pans. I covered them with a dishtowel and set the pans on the stove, sitting on a cooling rack, to rise.

I would like to make note that at this point, it was around 2300 (11:00 pm for you non-military timers). I was sleepy and kind of hurting, but I was not going to leave the bread for tomorrow. No sir.

Finally, around ten ’til midnight, they were risen as much as they were going to rise. I could’ve baked the one on the right first and let the left pan rise a little more over the right front burner, but I was sleepy and the loaves were risen. So I popped them in the oven, pushed the button on my timer and got back on the computer to wait not-so-patiently.

Twenty-one minutes later, this is what I was rewarded with:

The prettiest little squatty wheat loaves I’ve ever seen! Like the second rising, the dough came up a little short, but that’s okay. When I up-ended my pans, the loaves slipped right out, steam coming out from under the bottoms. I tapped the bottoms dutifully, pleased with my hollow thumps. To keep the crust soft, I rubbed butter over the tops, covered the loaves with plastic and a dishtowel. Then I went to bed, happy with the smell of wheat bread in my house.

When I woke up this morning, I uncovered the bread and was rewarded with this lovely sight:

The tops were pleasantly soft and wrinkly. I started to cut into a loaf for breakfast toast, but I had one bowl of cereal to get rid of. I made myself wait for lunch. And as I sit here, happily eating my turkey and provolone sandwich on homemade wheat, I am beyond pleased. It’s thick and soft, unbelievably fragrant, and it has a real taste! Nothing like storebought wheat bread, which at this point is going to just be something to hold my sandwich innards together. I don’t know that I can ever go back to storebought now – why would I, when I have the means to make my own, with a loaf to eat and a loaf to freeze for later? I haven’t bothered to do the cost ratio between the two – a side experiment in decreasing my food costs and increasing my self-sustainability – but hopefully making my own bread is cheaper in the long run. Even with grain prices at record highs, I can’t see how it wouldn’t be.

Jayne’s recipe for Soft White Bread is listed here, with gobs of clear, instructional (and lovely!) photos. To make Soft Wheat Bread, substitute 2-3 cups wheat bread flour for all-purpose or unbleached bread flour. I did 3 cups of wheat to 3 cups of unbleached (half and half), but next time I might try 2 cups of wheat flour and 4 cups of unbleached, just to see what happens with respect to the rising ‘issue.’ I will also try my best to make bread on the weekends, when I’m not running willy-nilly all over the place from job to job to house to karate to wherever!

Thank you, Jayne, for posting this recipe! :)

Now go forth and bake bread. You will not regret it.

Focaccia – Part 2

(The much-anticipated sequel!)

Well, I meant to go home, bake my bread and be delighted, in that order. Things didn’t fall into place that way, because they never do. I ended up leaving the dough longer than anticipated (again) because EC talked me into going swimming. I can’t resist swimming, but I was afraid leaving the dough in the fridge any longer would ruin it, so I put it in the oven and left it. We ended up stopping on the way to our friend’s pool and talking to an older couple for two hours, so we swam later than expected. And then it started storming 15 minutes after we got in, so we had to get right back out. But that meant I got to get back to my bread.

I let the oven heat while the dough sat on the burners, preparing itself for its transformation. I dimpled it one more time – it had risen again, thankfully, while in the oven during my absence. Then it went in the oven and began undergoing its chemical transform. In the meantime, I was thinking that all that work for 20-25 minutes of baking was… ridiculous. Somehow, it didn’t seem fair to do all that work just for a few scant minutes of cook-time. Then I got over myself, because I had to and there was no sense in complaining to myself or the dog. I rotated it at mid-baking, as instructed.

The focaccia came out of the oven looking lovely. I was delighted by the smell of rosemary and thyme and bread. I haven’t smelled real homemade bread since that magical far-away time in my early childhood, and it was almost a welcome-home. Crusty, lightly golden, liberally sprinkled with rosemary and thyme and little oregano – I wanted to bite down on a piece as soon as I took it out of the oven, but I refrained. (Aren’t you proud?) It was tough, let me tell you. The smell of the rosemary backed by yeast and the warmth from the oven… I couldn’t stand it any longer. I had to have a bite. I cut a chunk off the corner and popped it in my mouth.

It was magic, pure and simple. I’m not kidding.

The crust had softened a little – flaked, really. It was rich with oil, redolent with the scent of warm extra virgin (one of my favorite kitchen smells, btw). All that rising had created perfect little air bubbles that had formed into corridors within the bread. It melted on my tongue. Silky olive oil, fragrant herbs, a crispy, flaky textured mouthfeel… I’ve died and gone to heaven. Even better, I made bread from scratch! And it was good! I’m floating on my bread-making-induced cloud. I want to make more and more and more; I have a buttermilk white loaf recipe calling my name from the depths of the recipe box…

I learned a few things, too, that I’d like to pass on. You bread veterans out there, please don’t laugh (too hard).

  • Dimple before the oil.
  • Try to make this when you have time – really.
  • Don’t be afraid of making plenty of herb oil – even if you don’t use it all on the bread, there’s plenty else you can use it for.
  • Topping possibilities for next time: roasted garlic, caramelized onions, fried potatoes, grated or shaved Parmesan…
  • Bread is not hard, just particular.
  • It’s actually kind of fun!
  • Shoulders, and biceps, are necessary if you are a hardheaded person making bread (i.e. by hand).
  • Wooden spoons are awesome.
  • A little hard work can reap some great rewards (cheesy, isn’t it?)

Now that I’ve made focaccia, I’ve got my eye on other recipes. Buttermilk loaf bread. Three day ventures into homemade croissants. Gruyere-stuffed yeast rolls. Yogurt rolls, mayonnaise rolls, dinner rolls, hamburger buns. I feel like a border has been crossed; a line erased. I feel like I’m finally getting somewhere with what I want, which is back to where we were when I was a kid. Fresh pasta, homemade bread, vegetables from my own garden, canned or frozen in my own kitchen. I can smell it coming on the horizon.

It smells like rising bread. I like it.

Focaccia – Part 1

So I got the recipe from Vegan YumYum – Poolish Focaccia. I’d been on a ‘bread kick’ when I printed it out, meaning in my own little way that I had found ALL these WONDERFUL bread recipes but had no real intention of actually making anything within a few weeks of copying the recipes from paper to 3×5 cards.

Last night, however, I made focaccia. Sort of. I say sort of, because there’s a part 1. If there’s a part 1, there’s probably a part 2 (there is). If there’s a part 2, then something isn’t quite finished (it’s not). Though I do not have any photos of the making-in-general, I do have a few things to relate.

I made the poolish Tuesday night in a former chocolate chip cookie dough container (my roommate made off with most of the kitchen apparatuses, including the mixing bowls), in which it promptly exploded and overflowed from
onto my counter by Wednesday morning. I was delighted with the smell of yeast working under cover, but since I was due at work in less time than I had to make the bread to its final debut, I put it in another bowl as best I could find and headed off to work.

When I came home yesterday afternoon, it had bubbled up prettily. Encouraged, I followed the recipe and added flour, water, yeast and salt to the poolish and began to mix it with my heavy, beloved wooden spoon. As Lolo mentions in her entry, it takes a while to mix by hand, so I thought I was prepared. I’d forgotten, however, that I hadn’t made bread since I was a child, and by “child” I’m talking three or four years old. Mom and Dad were still married, we still lived in the big house and Mom and I made “pasketti” from scratch at least once a week.

I never remembered bread dough being so hard to mix! It was, though, and my arms hurt like hell. Maybe in the future I’ll be using a heavier bowl or a smaller bowl or something like that, but I doubt it will help any. I think I’ll just make bread like I did this time, so I’ll have something to bitch about after it’s baked and lovely. I called my mom to talk about it while I was mixing, because I needed something to distract me from the ouchiness of my hands and fingers from holding tight onto the spoon handle. When I hung with Mom, I beat it some more. I ended up mixing it for longer than ten minutes, but I’m a bread novice and it just didn’t feel right. When it did (and I was tired of whirling that damn spoon around), I floured my counter and a flexible cutting board and slapped that hunk of sticky dough down on the counter.

I felt better about it then, on the counter and liberally dusted with bread flour. You see, through this whole thing I was desperately afraid that I would screw it up, that it would be too soft or too mushy or it wouldn’t bake through. (I baked some ‘fudgey brownies‘ while I was waiting on the bread to rise that I did screw up royally, so I was a little paranoid.) I patted it out, let it rise and folded it the first time. Let me share: if you make this bread, or anything unwieldy that you might have to move or fold or whatever, use a flexible cutting board. Man, that thing covered my bases. I didn’t have to worry about anything slipping or being too heavy – all I had to do was fold the board and the dough went with it.

By the time I went to bed last night, I had the bread pressed down twice and oiled well. I had to put it in the refrigerator this morning, but I’m hoping that didn’t hurt it any. I’m going home now to bake it, and I’ve got my camera in my bag (I’ve checked several times now). I’ll take a few pictures and let you know how it turns out in the morning. I’m hoping that being lazy and anxious about making this bread didn’t hurt my first try. It’s been hella fun to do, though, even if it doesn’t turn out.

I guess everyone’s got to make things their own way every once in a while, right?