Category Archives: Breads

More five-minute artisan bread tales

peasant-bread1I’m currently making the peasant bread dough from “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day” and am having much more success. The dough is much wetter and bubblier — perhaps in my initial baking experiment, the dough was too dry, hence the super dense, underbaked dough. The crust is crackling and crispy and I cannot wait to taste the inside.

The latest batch — a baguette and a boule — are now baking in the oven, filling the apartment with that absolutely intoxicating fresh baked bread smell. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm…….

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Posted by on March 13, 2009 in Breads


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Can you really make great bread in five minutes a day?

I’m working my way through the book “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day,” by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François, where the idea is that you make a big batch of dough, place it in the refrigerator, and then use chunks over the next couple of weeks. But is it really possible to make bread that (a) doesn’t need to be kneaded, (b) only takes five minutes of active work to make, and (c), tastes just as good as bread that takes hours and hours to make (like the breads in Reinhart’s “Crust and Crumb”)?

I was ready to find out. So, I’ve made a big, fat batch of dough that is now resting in the refrigerator. It’s bubbly and thriving, just like a sourdough starter. I’ve made two breads thus far, experimenting with resting times and baking times. Because the dough is so wet, relatively to other doughs, this dough holds up well in the refrigerator without drying out.

So let’s find out what happened:

The first bread was a little dense. The crust was gorgeous, crackly and crispy, but the inside was slightly underbaked and doughy. The bread rose much less than others I had made in the past. Perhaps the lack of kneading allows for shorter gluten strands to form?

The second bread was much better. Instead of letting it rise only 40 minutes, I let it rise closer to an hour or so. It rose more and was significantly less dense than the first bread. Plus, I used a thermometer to check the final temperature of the bread. This isn’t mentioned in the book, but it’s a technique I learned in “Crust and Crumb.” If the bread is still measuring under 180 degrees F, it’s underbaked. With a sourdough, you ideally want the temperature to reach up to 205 degrees inside. Without the thermometer, the second bread would have been raw inside. The crust looked crisp and crackly, but the dense inside (I’ve just found these are not super fluffy breads) would have still been doughy.

So it has been an interesting experiment so far, but I’m not quite convinced that these breads match up completely to breads that take many loving hours to make. They are certainly convenient, and I will continue to make breads using the book’s method for days when we’re out of bread and I want something quick and easy, but there’s nothing like a real sourdough made using a starter.

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Posted by on March 7, 2009 in Breads


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Crust and Crumb – Oh the stuff you’ll bake

Our fridge and freezer look like a mad scientist’s laboratory — or perhaps just a mad baker. I’ve got poolish, one type of starter, in the freezer in little tupperware containers in the freezer, and biga, a thicker starter in a plastic bag. There are two jars with what looks like white and grey slime in the fridge both spewing a little carbon dioxide every now and then. Meet barm and rye barm. And there’s frozen pizza dough somewhere stashed in our freezer.

Yes, I am in full baking mode. I’ve got two multi-grain, whole-wheat loaves in the oven right now after nearly a day of making bread. I’m working through Peter Reinhart’s Crust and Crumb — a wonderful book, although not one for those afraid of detailed recipes. Each recipe typically calls for a starter, which must be made hours, days or even weeks ahead. Patience is rewarded, however, in the wonderful, rich flavors in the bread. The lesson here is that life — and bread — is worth slowing down for. Or at least plan things very well.

I love baking because unlike making cakes, where everything must be very precise (my mother always fears when I enter her kitchen and proclaim that I’m going to bake a cake — I’m well-known for my experimentation), baking bread is a flexible art. Once you know how to acheive a certain texture when kneading the dough and you learn when to proof and how much time the bread needs to bake (use a handy-dandy thermometer to guage the temperature inside the dough), you can experiment to your heart’s delight.

Le pain du jour was, as I mentioned before, a multi-grain, whole-wheat loaf. The recipe called for buttermilk; I didn’t have any, so I used yogurt. It also called for a multi-grain mix consisting of oats, polenta/cornmeal and wheat bran. I looked in the pantry: no cornmeal, no wheat bran. Into the bread went cooked wheat berries, cooked oatmeal leftover from breakfast, and cracked, cooked bulgur I had prepared for another recipe. Because these grains are cooked and they’ve already incorporated some water, the percentage of water must be adjusted in the bread in order to get the proper dough.

The breads are gorgeous and the apartment smells divine. If you’re an intrepid baker, Crust and Crumb is definitely for you. Other essential tools I recommend are a good thermometer, a pastry cutter, very good flour (King Arthur is my favorite) and a KitchenAid Stand Mixer. The last ingredient is pricey, but it makes bread making soo much easier.

Happy baking!

Yeasted Multigrain Bread

from Crust and Crumb by Peter Reinhart

1. A day before, prepare the biga by combining 3 1/2 cups (16 oz) unbleached bread flour, 1 teaspoon instant yeast and 1 1/2 cups of cool water in a large bowl. Transfer to a work surface and knead for five minutes or until dough is smooth and tacky. Place dough in a bowl sprayed with cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap and allow the biga to rise at least 1.5 times. Refrigerate overnight.

2. On the bread-baking day, take the biga out of the fridge for at least an hour to take the chill off. Measure 2 cups of the biga and add 1 3/4 cups (8 oz) whole wheat flour, 3/4 cups unbleached bread flour, 1/3 cup cornmeal, 1/3 cup oats, 1/3 cup wheat bran, 2 Tbsp cooked brown rice, 2 Tbsp brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 1/2 tsp instant yeast, 1/2 buttermilk, 2 Tbsp honey, 10 Tbsp cool water. You can freeze the leftover biga to use in another recipe.

3. Combine all of the ingredients and knead on a floured counter (or in your KitchenAid!) for about 10-12 minutes or until the dough becomes smooth and tacky. You can tell when the bread is ready by stretching out the dough until a small hole appears in the middle of the stretched portion; if the dough snaps before this windowpane of dough forms, you must continue kneading.

4. Put the dough in a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow it to rise 90 minutes at room temperature.

5. Grease a loaf pan. Shape the dough into a ball by pulling on the ends and putting them together at the bottom until the dough is rounded.

6. Mist the loaf with cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise 60-90 minutes.

7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

8. Place the loaf in the center rack and bake for 20 minutes. Turn the loaf from front to back to ensure even browning and bake for another 20 minutes or so. Use your thermometer to check the temperature in the middle, it should read 185 when done.

9. Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool.

Enjoy! You’ve worked hard for this bread!!

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Posted by on December 8, 2008 in Breads


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Quick Cookies, Muffins and Pancakes, Oh My!

I have recently become a huge fan of the Trader Joe’s Multigrain Baking and Pancake Mix (don’t live near a Trader Joe’s? Don’t fret — many health food stores have a similar multi-use baking mix on their shelves). Yearning for some healthy chocolate chip cookies? Want some pancakes or waffles on Sunday morning?

This mix makes baking super simple. It’s like using a pre-made cake or cookie mix, but because you add some of the ingredients, you can control how much sugar and fat you’re using. Plus, you control the mix-ins!

Thus far, I’ve made chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies, a multigrain fig quick bread, a blueberry coffeecake and chocolate-chip banana pancakes. Yes! All with one mix!

Here’s the deal: The mix includes flour, oats, baking soda and baking powder, a little oil, buttermilk, oat and wheat bran, a little sugar and salt. The basic ingredients for many healthy baked goods. You only need add a little more sugar, some butter/oil/applesauce for moisture and the goodies!

Here are some of my favorite recipes using this mix:

Blueberry Walnut Coffeecake

1 cup soymilk

Juice from one lime

1 egg

2 Tbsp Spectrum Spread or butter

2 and 1/2 cups of Trader Joe’s Multigrain Baking Mix

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 and 1/2 cups frozen blueberries

1/2 cup walnuts


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and coat an 8 by 8-inch pan with cooking spray.

2. In a small bowl, add the lime juice to the soymilk until it curdles (if you don’t like soymilk, you can skip this step and just use 1 cup of buttermilk).

3. Stir the egg, melted butter/Spectrum Spread, and sugar into the soymilk mixture and mix well.

4. Add the Multigrain baking mix and stir until the flour mixture is barely moistened.

5. Fold in the blueberries and walnuts.

6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 45-50 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle of the pan comes out clean.

7. Allow the pan to cool for at least 15 minutes and serve!


Chocolate-Chip Banana Pancakes

2 and 1/2 cups Trader Joe’s Multigrain Baking Mix

1 cup soymilk

2 eggs

2 Tbsp melted butter or Spectrum Spread

1 mashed banana

1/2 cup walnuts (optional)

1 cup chocolate chips


1. Preheat a saute pan or griddle on medium heat and lightly coat it with butter or oil.

2. Mix of the ingredients together, being careful not to overbeat, lest you want tough pancakes!

3. Using a spoon, carefully ladle about 2-3 Tbsp of batter into the pan to create a nice, round pancake. Keep the griddle on medium heat so that the pancakes don’t burn.

4. When a few bubbles appear on the top surface, flip the pancakes over. Your pancakes should be lightly golden brown and cooked on the inside. If you still have raw batter on the inside, cook a little longer before flipping.

5. Serve warm!


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Olive, Feta and Basil Flatbread in a Flash

Yesterday afternoon, the boy casually informed me that his cousin was coming over for dinner. Tonight? I asked. I had been thinking of throwing together a quick pizza with the ready-made pizza dough from Trader Joe’s and calling it a day. But this cousin of his had worked at a New York restaurant and was a foodie himself. I couldn’t just make a quick pizza meal for this guy!

So I set to work. Instead of the pizza idea, I decided to put together a tasty flatbread that would pair together with a tomato and garlic stew with prawns I was thinking of making. Both are easy to make and are impressive. Add a nice salad and you’ve got a nice meal for company.

I scrounged around the apartment for some ingredients for the flatbread. Black olives? Check. Feta cheese? I knew there was some in the fridge… Herbs? Ah, yes, there was still some fresh basil left. Nuts? I knew I had some toasted pine nuts in the pantry. I picked up a couple of slices of prosciutto we had left and grabbed a bottle of olive oil.

I whipped out the herbed pizza dough from Trader Joe’s and assembled the whole thing in a matter of minutes. I would most definitely make this delicious flatbread again, either to pair with a soup or as an appetizer.


1 package of Trader Joe’s herbed pizza dough (find it in the refrigerated/prepared food section). You can substitute any prepared pizza dough or make your own.

1 can of pitted black olives (packed in water)

4 Tablespoons of feta cheese (I used the Trader Joe’s light feta)

I good handful of toasted pine nuts

1 good handful of fresh basil

olive oil

2 slices of prosciutto



1. Take the herbed pizza dough out of the fridge and let sit out in room temperature for 20 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss flour or cornmeal over a pizza stone or baking sheet and stretch and spread the pizza dough to a thinness of your liking.

3. Pour a little olive oil over the top of the dough. Tear the prosciutto slices into little pieces and sprinkle on top. Chop the olives into small pieces and spread over the dough. Sprinkle the feta cheese and the pine nuts. Chop the basil and spread over all of the toppings. Add a couple of dashes of chili flakes and pepper.

4. Pop it in the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes.

Voila! Gorgeous-looking flatbread in no time!

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Posted by on July 17, 2008 in Breads


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Cookies and Brownies and Bread! Oh My!

While surfin’ through the interwebs today, I found a blog written by the masters of baking over at King Arthur Flour, the Baker’s Banter. Filled with gorgeous, saliva-enducing photos and step-by-step instructions on how to make every baked good imaginable (check out this fab, fab, fab entry on how to make biscotti), these bakers have it down.

For the bake-aholic, King Arthur Flour produces a delightful catalog filled with everything a baker could crave. Along with selling gadgets and techie goodies, they sell some of the best flours for the devoted baker — plus they sell hard-to-find flours that are key for making artisan breads (like dark and light rye, spelt, amaranth, nut flours…).

I recently bought the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book and have made several really great recipes, including a bread packed full of cranberries and nuts. I highly recommend this cookbook for someone who is looking to switch over to healthier baking but is wary of “light” and “healthy” recipes.

I know, I can’t stop raving. I just love this company.


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Baking Tales: Meet “Barm,” The Sourdough Starter

I spent the weekend making bread, bread and more bread! I’m working from the cookbook “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice,” which is by far the best book I’ve ever used for making bread. The instructions are crystal clear and all of my breads thus far have turned out beautifully. Plus, Peter Reinhart, the author, includes a variety of techniques for shaping beautiful loaves.

But before I get ahead of myself, I’d like you to meet “barm,” the newest member of my pet family (in addition to barm, we have two cats and a dog). Barm is a culture of wild yeast and bacteria used for making sourdough breads. Every fourth day or so, barm gets a feeding of fresh flour and water and goes crazy, bubbling away in its container. (Check out barm at right!).

Many people assume that what makes sourdough sour is the wild yeast. The sourness actually comes from the lactic acid bacteria that feed on the byproducts of the yeast fermentation. Commercial yeast usually cannot survive in this sour medium, but the wild yeast can, which is why this is such a symbiotic relationship. The yeast fermentation is usually faster than the bacterial one, so it takes time to develop the unique sour flavor we associate with sourdough; I’ve been nurturing barm (others call this the “starter” or “mother sponge”) for weeks now and it has developed a really nice complex taste.

Why does sourdough taste different from place to place? Wild yeast — present in the air and naturally in flour — varies quite a bit from location to location, which is why my sourdough will always taste different than San Francisco sourdough or New York sourdough.

Baking bread, by the way, is much, much easier than most people envision. Although many recipes call for an exact fermentation time, I’ve found that I can create the dough, leave it in a warm place and go work out or read for a few hours before coming back to a beautifully risen dough.

If you want to start your own barm or “mother sponge,” beware that it takes days before you can use it for your sourdough. The recipe is in “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.” It’s pretty low-maintenance, but takes its time to develop the flavors you are looking for. You can also get free starter from a group called “Friends of Carl,” which has saved starter from 1847! Check it out at


Posted by on April 28, 2008 in Breads, Food Reads


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“bills open kitchen” verdict

This week I’m cooking with bills open kitchen, a cookbook written by Sydney chef Bill Granger (his restaurants include bills and bills2). The cookbook is visually stunning. The photos are luscious and some feature his adorable daughter.

The recipes… well, let’s just say they needed some tweaking. I’ve found that this often happens with cookbooks created by chefs. Proportions, flavors, cooking times vary vastly from a large restaurant kitchen to a home kitchen. Good cookbooks are tested in a variety of kitchens and tend to be very specific. Instead of calling for “two pears, chopped,” they’ll ask for one cup of chopped Anjou pears, for example, knowing well that pears vary in size and shape.

This is precisely what happened to me when I tried Bill’s oat, pear and raspberry loaf. The recipe idea is fabulous. A fresh pear and raspberry filling is encased in a crumbly oat quick bread — perfect for an afternoon snack or for brunch. But the recipe needed some work. My modified recipe is below.

I also attempted the Vietnamese chicken salad yesterday. The dressing was altogether too salty and the salad lacked a balancing sweet flavor. I added mandarin slices to make it more enticing. I won’t include the recipe only because it’s not one I would recommend — it took way too much tweaking.

Final verdict: bills open kitchen provides some wonderful breakfast, lunch, and dinner ideas, but be sure to taste along the way to make sure the flavors are balanced and that the proportions are right. Adjust accordingly. If you’re a stick-to-the-recipe person, this book isn’t for you.

Oat, Pear and Raspberry Loaf (modified from bills open kitchen)


topping —

1/4 cup rolled oats

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 Tbsp. brown sugar

2 Tbsp. butter (or Smart Balance) cut into small pieces

bread —

1 cup rolled oats

1 1/2 cups boiling water

3 Tbsp. butter (or Smart Balance) cut into small pieces

1/2 cup applesauce

1/2 brown sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

a pinch of salt

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 cup white sugar

1 ripe pear, cored and diced

1/2 cup frozen raspberries (I used these neat black raspberries available at Trader Joe’s)


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Use cooking spray to coat a loaf pan (7 1/2 by 4 1/2).

2. To make the topping, combine the topping ingredients with your hands in a small bowl until the mixture is crumbly. Set aside.

3. Toss the pears and raspberries with the white sugar in a small bowl and set aside.

4. In a medium bowl, pour the boiling water over the oats and stir until the oats are covered with water. Set aside and let cool.

5. In a large bowl, combine the butter and brown sugar and using a hand-held beater, cream the butter and sugar until the mixture becomes pale and creamy. Slowly add the applesauce and the vanilla extract.
Add the eggs one at a time until well mixed.

6. Slowly add the flour and baking powder into the bowl and fold in slowly, making sure not to overbeat. Drain the excess water off the oats and add them into the flour and butter mixture.

7. Spread two-thirds of the oat-flour-butter mixture into the loaf pan. Add the sugared fruit in an even layer and cover with the rest of the mix. Sprinkle the crumbly topping over the quick bread.

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Posted by on April 10, 2008 in Breads, Food Reads


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Natalie’s Ambrosial Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

My sister Natalie makes the most delicious dessert bread. Although mixing pumpkin and chocolate chips sounds like an odd combination, the moist pumpkin pairs beautifully with the melted semi-sweet chocolate. The cinnamon provides a spicy finish as the bread crumbles in your mouth. She’s reworked this recipe so that it’s both healthy and very tasty at the same time.


1 and 3/4 cup pastry flour

1/4 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

2/3 cup sugar

2 Tbsp. butter, softened

4 egg whites (for a richer bread, use 2 eggs)
1 14 oz. can pumpkin

1/3 cup soymilk

3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.

2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves in a small bowl. In a large bowl, beat the sugar, egg whites and butter until light and fluffy. Mix in the pumpkin until fully incorporated.

3. Add the flour mixture to the egg/sugar mixture with a silicone spatula, making sure not to overbeat. Slowly add in the soymilk until the dry ingredients are fully incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the loaf pan.

4. Bake the batter for approximately one hour or until a knife stuck in the center comes out clean.



Posted by on March 28, 2008 in Breads


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