Category Archives: Bread

Trying This Again…

Third time’s the charm right?  Well, this is officially the third time I’m giving blogging a go, so hopefully I’ll be somewhat more successful this time around.  I have all kinds of excuses for why it didn’t work out the last time.  I was living in Baghdad.  My computer with the Adobe design programs died (sniff sniff).  I didn’t like the “look” of the blog.

That last one was the real sticking point.  When I moved the blog from Chi Bao Le over to here, it was because I wanted more control over the blog design.  Having taken, oh, 8 graphic design classes through the University of Utah continuing education program in the fall of 2008 I thought I had plenty of skills to rock the design world.  Um, yeah, not so much.

After months of procrastination and fumbling about, I can honestly say I finally have the blog looking the way I envisioned way back in January 2009 when I created this site.  Such humble aspirations, I know.  The downside of finally getting the look just right is that I have no more excuses to avoid actually blogging.

I’ve had this post in mind for months.  Earlier this year, there was a period of time where I had three different friends come to me for help with yeast baking.  They were running into various difficulties and asked for some help/advice.  It got me thinking that maybe I should do a yeast baking tutorial on the blog.  There are probably plenty of these tutorials on the web, but sometimes I find it’s easier to follow when it comes from a friend.

I started baking with yeast when I was 11 years old.  I took a one day baking class from a lady at church and she taught me how to make a recipe for dinner rolls.  It was a bit of a tricky recipe.  Depending on the local climate, you had to vary the amount of flour.  When it was time for the dough to rise, you had to set the bowl in a sink filled with warm water and then, every 15 minutes for 2-3 hours you had to punch the dough down.  It made a sticky dough, which in turn made it difficult to shape into rolls.  I’m not sure why, but I was determined to master this recipe.  And I did.  For a period of time, I made them almost every week for Sunday dinner.  I even made them when we lived in the Marshall Islands.

That right there is why its worthwhile to master, or at least feel confident with, yeast baking.  Once you understand the process, you can bake anything anywhere in the world.  Which is good, because believe me, plenty of places in the world lack good American style yeast-raised bread.  In Baghdad, I made bagels, bread, cinnamon rolls… whatever baked good I craved, I could make, and that made the experience of living there far more bearable.

Couple things to remember when working with yeast:

  • Yeast is a living thing.  Which means you can kill it.  Which means it won’t work.  Yeast is happiest in a cozy, warm environment.  Just like Goldilocks and the porridge, not too hot, not too cold.  The best temperature for yeast (or at least the guide I go by) is wrist temperature.  Test whatever liquid you are using on your wrist, like you would a baby bottle.
  • Proofing your yeast will lead to a higher chance of baking success.  What is proofing?  Its the step in baking recipes when you add the yeast and a little bit of sugar to your warm liquid, usually water.  You let it sit for maybe 5-10 minutes to let the yeast get activated.  This is a good step for baking novices because it lets you see that your yeast is working.  The liquid will get all bubbly on the top.  If that doesn’t happen, then your yeast is probably dead and you don’t want to waste hours of your life finishing the recipe only to end up with a hard brick at the end.
  • If a recipe doesn’t ask you to proof the yeast, you can still do it.  Like I said, its a good step for beginning bakers.  Just add the yeast to the liquid, add a couple pinches of sugar, and let it go for 10 minutes.  Then add the yeast mixture to the rest of your ingredients.
  • Kneading is fun.  These days, most people have machines that do the kneading for them.  This is a good thing as kneading can also be hard work.  However, its a good way to work out a small amount of aggression and I personally think its always a good idea to have a tactile connection with your dough.  You want to feel your dough because it will give you a better sense of when the dough has been kneaded long enough, when you have the  right amount of softness or smoothness.  This is probably sounding all very new agey.  Just go with it.  I let the machine do the hard work, but when its just about “there”, I put the dough on the counter and give it a couple good kneads.
  • How do you knead?  Good question.  Fold the back half of the dough towards you, then using the heels of your hands, push down and away from you on the fold.  Give the dough a quarter turn, repeat the fold/push.  Then repeat the whole process again and again until the dough feels smooth and elastic.
  • Dough likes a warm, moist place to rise.  I have never had any problems finding a warmish spot in my apartment to let dough rise.  I take a kitchen towel and soak it under hot water.  I wring it out, then place it over the top of the bowl with the dough.  I put the bowl in a warm place and let it do its thing.  You can also warm your oven up a tad (just a tad… not too hot… then turn OFF the oven), place a bowl of boiling hot water in the oven and then put your bowl with the dough in there to rise.  You can do the same thing with the bowl of boiling water in the microwave.  Unless your place is really cold, I would just find a warmish spot and use the hot kitchen towel.  Its just easier, less fussy that way.  Plus, it has always worked for me.
  • Once your dough is shaped and ready for the final rise, cover it again with a hot towel and return it to the same warm spot to rise.

Sarah’s Bread

I think this is a very good recipe to learn on because it is an easy dough to work with.  I got this recipe last June when I met Sarah down in Georgia.  She made this bread for dinner and it was so good I asked for the recipe, which she kindly shared. (You never know if people are going to be possessive with their recipes.  Thankfully, Sarah is not one of those people.)

Part of the reason this is a good beginner recipe is because it is not a whole wheat bread.  Instead, it is a mix of white and wheat flour.  Personally, I’m not a huge fan of whole wheat bread.  I find most whole wheat breads are dry and lack flavor.    Also, for anyone starting out in yeast baking, its significantly harder to learn with whole wheat recipes.  Whole wheat flour is heavier than white flour, which means the yeast has to work a lot harder to get the bread to rise.  Therefore, you have to be that much more careful about how you treat the yeast.  You have to knead the dough longer, and give it a longer rising time, etc etc.  I recommend learning on a recipe like this one, which is easier and more forgiving.  Once you feel comfortable working with yeast, branch out and try a whole wheat bread recipe or two.

2 pkgs yeast (4½ t) – Sarah uses rapid rise

⅔ c. sugar

1-2 T. molasses (depends on how much molasses taste you want, I always use the higher amount)

2 c. warm water (i.e. wrist temperature)

1 T. fine sea salt

¼ c. vegetable oil

1½ c. 100% whole wheat flour

4½ c. unbleached white bread flour

In a large mixing bowl add yeast, sugar, molasses, and warm water. Let sit for 5-10 minutes.

Starting to proof. Just a few bubbles on top.

After 10 minutes, lots of bubbles.

Add salt and vegetable oil. Mix well.

Then add both flours. Mix well, then knead for 5-7 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. You can do this by hand or by machine, although it will be much easier by machine.

At the start of kneading. Clearly, the dough is a bit of a mess. It will take a good 5-10 minutes to get it smooth and elastic.

At the end of kneading. As usual, I finished it off by hand. You can see how the dough is nice and smooth at this point.

Place dough in a large, oiled bowl, cover with a hot, damp cloth and place in a warm spot to rise. Let rise until doubled, about an hour to an hour and a half.

I like to let my dough raise in this nifty bucket I picked up from King Arthur Flour. It makes it very easy to see when the dough has doubled. Also, you can see the damp kitchen towel I've draped over the top to help add moisture to the raising environment.

And here we are an hour or so later. I love how the bucket makes it so easy to see how much the dough has risen

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, divide in half, smooth the dough and shape into loaves (roll out the dough into a rectangle, roll it up lengthwise, tuck the ends under and place in the loaf pan). Cover again with a hot, damp towel and set in a warm place to rise. Let rise until doubled, about an hour.

Dough in the bread pans, ready for a second rise. Again, I'm going to cover these with the damp kitchen towel.

End of the second rise. You can again see how much the dough has expanded in about an hour's time.

Bake at 350°F for about 29-35 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes in the pans, then remove the bread from the pans and let cool on wire racks.

Voila! Beautiful homemade bread.

This bread freezes beautifully, as does most bread.  I usually cut the loaves in half and freeze all but one half.  Then, as I am about to finish one, I take one out of the freezer to defrost.

If you have comments, suggestions, questions, please comment below.  I love getting tips from other bakers, and if you run into problems when trying this or any of my other recipes, I’m happy to help troubleshoot.

Me, my sister, my Pops, and a Mercedes Benz….

I arrived in Frankfurt with my sister on Thursday morning after one of the most uncomfortable plane rides I can remember.  I’ve done my fair share of long-haul flights, and most of those flights have been on United, but for some reason, this flight seemed significantly more uncomfortable than most.  It felt like the smallest amount of personal space that I’ve ever been given on a flight.  I think the next time I fly overseas I’ll go ahead and spend the extra money for the Economy Plus seats.

When we arrived in Frankfurt we met up with our father at the Avis counter, picked up the keys to our Mercedes Benz (yeah baby!) and then proceeded out to the parking garage to load up the car, where I promptly decided Hillary should fly back to the States so that Pops and I could enjoy one of these for the next week and a half:

Porsche

That’s right, a whole row of shiny new Porsches available from Avis.  Ah yes, it made me drool.  However, I really am pleased with our Mercedes and am especially happy to have an in-dash GPS unit.  Let me tell you, that thing has been a life saver.

We immediately drove to my cousin’s house where we had a very happy reunion with his family.  Hillary and I have missed them a great deal these past two years and are excited for all of us to be reunited in the DC area next summer.

That evening our cousin drove us to Mainz where we goofed off, toured the local historical sites, and began sampling some of the local cuisine.

Wall Mainz

Goofing Off

Mainz with M

As its been more than a month since I last blogged I’ll feel particularly guilty if I don’t leave you with a recipe of some kind.  However, I’m going to cheat.  Rather than posting a recipe I’ve done some tweaking to, I’m just going to link to a really really good soup recipe I recently tried.  I’m a big fan of King Arthur Flour and have never been disappointed by one of their recipes.  I’ve always been happy with Campbell’s Tomato soup but last month decided to try making creamy tomato soup from scratch and went with a recipe on the KAF website.  It was delicious.  Kept me happily fed for a good week.  I paired it with their popovers for one of my favorite comfort meals.  And I’m even including proof below:

Tomato Soup and Popovers

Something to Celebrate

This weekend one of my closest friends from high school is getting married.   And I won’t be there.  This is the first wedding for one of my close friends that I’ll be missing since the weddings of two of my best friends back in 2002 and 2003.  Back in the day I was more than a little sceptical of the need to expend scant money and time off to travel long distances for weddings. It seemed like a lot of time and money to spend to then only enjoy a few minutes worth of time interacting with the bride and groom.

I think Sara and Jon’s wedding in October 2004 changed my mind about weddings.

Jon and Sara

Sara has been one of my closest friends (and favorite people) since I met her in the fall of 1996 in the very small, and obscure, town of Farmington, Maine.  Somehow the fates conspired that fall to bring myself, Sara, and our two other dear friends Carri and Lyn together at the University of Maine at Farmington.  We were all there for different reasons and different lengths of time.  Much to my parents’ chagrin, I lasted only one semester before packing my bags and moving back to Boston.  However, down all of our very different life paths, we have managed to remain unbelievably close through the intervening years.

Lyn got married in August 2002 and I wasn’t there.  When Sara’s wedding rolled around all four of us were living in or around Boston and we all made the trip out to Midway, Utah for the wedding.  It remains one of my favorite, and happiest, memories.

The Girls

Since Sara’s wedding I’ve made it a point to attend all of my close friends’ weddings.  This presented something of a challenge when 3 of my close friends got married in 2007 and I traveled to all of the weddings.  End of the day though, I always feel like the trip was worth the expense.

Given all of the above, it may not come as much of a surprise that I’m more than a little heartbroken to not be packing my bags for a quick trip to San Francisco this weekend to celebrate Anna’s big day.  This year, there was just no way to work out the travel.  I still wish, however, that I could be there.  Its hard to believe that I’ve known Anna for over 15 years and through that time she has been one of my dearest and closest friends, someone who always understands where I am coming from and always supports me and loves me.  And now, on the happiest day of her life, I won’t be there to support her in turn.

I don’t have a lot to offer in the way of a consolation prize for my absence.  But I do have a fantastic bread recipe that, for me at least, evokes all the warmth and love of home.  Anna, I wish you and Jorge the best as you build your new life together.  I can’t wait to see where life takes you.  I hope I get to ride along for some of the journey.  In the meantime, if you ever make this bread, I hope it will remind you that I love you and will always wish the best for you.

Bread Raising

Best Ever Wheat Bread

This bread freezes beautifully, which is good because it makes 5 loaves of bread.  However, usually I cut the recipe in half and make 2 loaves.  I’ve made this recipe by hand on a number of occasions so it is definitely doable without any special equipment.  However, mixing and kneading the dough will be a serious workout.  If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, the dough comes together very easily and in no time at all.

Last thing (I promise)… this dough was the reason for a very interesting experience I had at Walden Pond in the summer of 1996.  You never know what to expect when you devote a day to baking bread.  That’s all I’m going to say.

3 packages of yeast

2/3 c. vegetable oil

1 1/3 c. dried milk

4 c. warm water

2 T. salt

2/3 c. sugar

4 eggs

7 c. whole wheat flour

Mix all of the above ingredients together and blend for at least 5 minutes.

Add:

7 c. white flour

Knead until the dough is smooth.  By hand, this usually takes me about 20-30 minutes.  If I’m using a mixer I usually let it run for 5-10 minutes.  Place the dough in a large, oiled bowl, cover with a dishcloth that has been rinsed in warm water and then wrung out, place in a warmish place (about 70 degrees), and let raise until doubled (about 1 ½ – 2 hours).  Punch the dough down, knead briefly, and then divide into 5 portions.  Shape each portion into a loaf, place in a loaf pan, cover with the towel, place the pans in the warmish place, and let rise again for about 1 hour.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.  You should be able to tell when the dough is done by knocking on the bottom of the pan with your knuckles.  If it sounds hollow, the bread is done.

If you aren’t sure how to shape bread loaves, I suggest doing a quick search on the internet.  Or post a comment and I can walk you through my process.  Its not complicated.  Frankly, I have a very laissez-faire attitude to the process because as long as the bread tastes good, I don’t much care what the loaf itself looks like.

The Two Week Rule

My best friend from high school, Jessica, came to Salt Lake City for a visit at the beginning of February.  It was honestly so good to see her and to have a weekend where we could do some of the things we love to do with each other:

  • cook
  • eat
  • talk
  • take lots of pictures
  • drive around

jess-shannon

That list is a snapshot of some of the things we’ve enjoyed doing together since high school, except that back then we were cruising the streets of southern California in Jess’ awesome silver Ford Explorer hatchback and one of our favorite things to make when we would come home for lunch was Stovetop stuffing from the canister.

escort

One of the things I was excited to show Jess when she came to town was something I had hanging in my quilt room.

2-weeks

I’ve had this since my freshman year of college.  I can’t remember what crappy moment in my life that year inspired Jess to send this to me, but I love it so much that I’ve been hauling it from place to place for the past 15 years.  I do know that my freshman year of college was filled with lots of really good times, but inevitably, I had my share of bad days as well.  On the bad days, it was usually Jess that I reached out to for comfort, understanding, or solace.  When I look back on that year now, I don’t really remember the rough moments.  The good memories seem to crowd them out.  But what I love the most about the “poster” Jess sent, is that she included one of our favorite mantras from high school: If it isn’t funny now, just remember, in two weeks this will be hilarious.

Proof of the two week rule...

Towards the end of our senior year, there was a period of time where everything seemed to be going wrong.  At some point we began telling each other, “In two weeks this will be hilarious.”  It seemed like the perfect way to deal with those experiences that while not amusing in the moment, become a source of humor once a little time and distance has passed.

I’ve been reminded of that phrase many times since the start of the year.  This year got off to a decidedly bad start.  There was a period of time where I just didn’t know how to respond to or deal with the difficulties life kept putting in my path.  During many of these moments, I felt like the only appropriate response was to remind myself that in 2 weeks (or maybe more like 2 months or even 2 years) I’d be laughing about everything that seemed to be going wrong in my life at this time.

In honor of Jess’ visit, and her overwhelmingly positive effect on my life, I wanted to share one of my favorite recipes that Jess kindly shared with me.  My favorite time of year to make this bread, per Jess’ suggestion, is for St. Patrick’s Day.  It goes extremely well with your corned beef and cabbage, and surprisingly enough (at least to me) this was a total hit with my very picky nephews and niece, so I feel confident in saying that it’s likely to be a hit with your family as well.

dilly-bread

Dilly Bread

1 package active dry yeast (2 ¼ t.)
¼ – 1/3 c. lukewarm water (I like the water level to be right between ¼ c. and 1/3 c.)
½ t. sugar

1 c. large curd creamed cottage cheese, warmed (you don’t want the cottage cheese to be too hot or it will kill the yeast, so just warm it for 1 min or so in the microwave)
1 egg, beaten
1 T. butter, melted
2 t. dill seed
1 T. minced dry onion flakes

2 ½ c. sifted flour
¼ t. baking soda
1 t. salt
2 T. sugar (I usually use just slightly less than 2 T. sugar because I like to account for the ½ t. I used with the yeast)

Combine yeast with warm water and sugar in a small pitcher.  Let sit for 10 minutes.

Mix second group of ingredients together in a large bowl using an electric mixer.  Mix the third group of ingredients together in another bowl.  Add the yeast mixture to the cottage cheese mixture.  Add the flour mixture slowly to the cottage cheese mixture.  Blend well.  A stiff batter should form.  Pour the batter onto a floured work surface and knead briefly.  Place dough in a large, greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Set in a warm place to raise until doubled, roughly one hour.

Punch down the dough, remove from the bowl, knead briefly, and form dough into a ball.  Grease a casserole or soufflé dish, and place dough in the dish.  Let the dough rise until doubled again, roughly 30 minutes to one hour.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.  Remove from oven, cover loosely with foil and bake another 15-25 minutes.  The bread is done when the loaf sounds hollow when tapped and has a brown crust.  Remove from oven and remove immediately from the baking dish.  Brush top of loaf with butter and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Cool on rack for 20 minutes.

Bring On 2009

Every year, when the holidays roll around, I inevitably hear people talk about how the holidays are too crazy. Too much going on. People taking too much on themselves. That with all the hustle and bustle we lose sight of the true meaning of the holiday season.

I’m here to admit that I am one of those people who overloads their schedule with projects and parties and people. But I LOVE it. To me, thats what makes the holidays so fantastic… for one whole month I lose myself thinking about other people, thinking about how I can show my love for friends and family and co-workers. By the end of the month I’m completely exhausted and ready for the new year to roll on in. But by the time the next December rolls around, I get excited all over again, thinking about all the fun stuff I’m going to make and do for the people in my life.

This year, December felt even more chaotic than usual, and it has been a true relief to spend the weekend putting all of my Christmas stuff away, cleaning my closet (and kitchen and bathroom and quilt room), catching up on the many neglected emails in my inbox, etc. etc.

I’ve decided to use today’s post to provide all and sundry with a quick recap of my life this past month… Maybe it will inspire you to forgive my sporadic posting.

With my siblings at Thanksgiving. I cooked a turkey, corn bread stuffing (made the corn bread from scratch, yeah baby), roasted sweet potato cheesecake, and cranberry sauce. Yum!


The Saturday after Thanksgiving my sisters and I decided to do a Top Chef cook-off. I ended up making dessert. This is my attempt at Richard’s Banana Scallops (season 4). For the record, this is a winner. So good. But I decided not to make the banana guacamole that went with it. That was a little too strange, even for me.


The first week of December, Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake has a huge fundraiser called the Festival of Trees. Individuals and companies donate decorated trees (or wreaths or gingerbread houses) to the festival. Before the festival officially opens to the public, people can purchase a ticket for the bidding night. I went with my sisters and my aunt that night because this year my mom’s close college friends decorated and dedicated a tree to her. I had planned to bid on her tree, but with a starting bid of $675 it was a little out of my price range. I bid on a wreath instead and won! Very exciting.


This shot is also from Festival of Trees. I took this for JB. A gingerbread airplane and hangar! Awesome! If they had only had a NASCAR gingerbread house the night would have been complete.


I was in San Diego from the 12-14th for a friend’s wedding. Highlights include an amazing Italian meal at a great restaurant in La Jolla, the wedding (of course), driving the Pacific Coast Highway from Laguna Beach to San Clemente, Trader Joes, Balboa Park, and best of all, a long, leisurely walk on the beach. Sometimes I really do miss southern California.


This is me, looking a little windblown, on Torrey Pines State Beach.


Balboa Park

Every year at Christmas I make homemade granola for my co-workers. I made the above batch with dried cherries and blueberries I picked up at Trader Joes.


Then I make little gift bags out of fabric for the granola. Above is the finished product. Cute, eh! It gives me such a thrill to make this every year. It’s really easy, and everyone loves it.


This is my cute mom on the train on our way to see Neil Diamond on the 19th. I would have taken a picture at the concert but I ended up having to sneak my camera in, and as we were in the handicapped section, there were lots of ushers around and well, I didn’t want to get in trouble. If you haven’t yet had an opportunity to see Neil Diamond in concert, I highly recommend it. He sang all my favorite songs. During Sweet Caroline I closed my eyes for a moment and pretended I was back at Fenway Park. If only….


This photo is from 2 nights ago. My sisters and I were playing Sorry (obviously). Notice all the little green men, sitting in the Start bubble. Yeah, those are my guys. Then observe how my opponents have all of their little guys on the board. We had already gone through the cards 1 1/2 times, and I hadn’t moved any guys out of start. None. It was thoroughly depressing.


Fast forward to another time and a half through the cards. Triumph was mine! Ahhh, winning is sweet.


Earlier today, trying out my pizzelle maker for the first time. I’ve wanted one of these for years, and then one of my good friends surprised me with it for Christmas. She is probably the only person on the planet I have ever confessed wanting this to, so it was a total and complete surprise. I was giddy the day she gave it to me. After making my first batch this afternoon, I OD’ed on pizzelles. They are so addictive. Can’t wait to share them with the folks at work tomorrow, although come to think of it, most of our staff will still be out on vacation.


And finally, the recipe you’ve been waiting for… OK, you probably haven’t been waiting for this, but this is the recipe that has caused me months of torment. I tried it again on Saturday and I now have both sisters’ stamp of approval, so even though I think it could still be perfected, I figure its good enough to post.


烧饼 (Shao Bing)

These little babies are called shao bing. They’re a Chinese flat bread. My favorite way to eat these is to grind peanuts and sugar together and then stuff that into the shao bing right when they come out of the oven. The hot bread melts the peanut/sugar mixture just a bit and it is so tasty. If that’s not your thing, you can also whip up a basic stir-fry and stuff the stir fry into the bread instead of eating it over rice. Hopefully soon I’ll have a stir-fry recipe on the blog specifically for shao bing. In the meantime, try the peanuts. I think you’ll love it as much as I, and my sisters, do.

Roux:
1/2 c. vegetable oil
2/3 c. All-Purpose Flour

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat until very hot. Add the flour and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the flour is nut-brown and very fragrant. Remove from heat and let cool while you make the shao bing dough.

Dough:
4 1/2 c. self-rising flour
1 1/2 t. salt
3 T. sugar
3/4 c. very hot tap water
1 c. very cold tap water

Also:
Sesame Seeds
Spray bottle with tap water (or you can use a pastry brush and a bowl of water)

Combine dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. With the mixer running on low speed, add the hot water and the cold water in quick succession. Knead in the machine until smooth and elastic, approximately 4 minutes. Place dough on a lightly floured surface, knead briefly, form into a ball, and let rest under a kitchen towel for 10 minutes.

Divide the dough into 20 pieces. Let rest for 5 minutes on a floured surface under a kitchen towel.

This is where it gets a little tricky….
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Take a piece of dough and roll it into a 6-by-3 inch rectangle. With a pastry brush, brush a generous amount of the roux over the dough. Fold the dough into thirds, rotate the dough packet by 90 degrees, and roll it out a second time to make a 6-by-3 rectangle. Fold the dough into thirds again and roll it out briefly to make it about 2-by-4 inches. Spritz or brush the top of the dough with water. Fill a bowl with sesame seeds. Press the top-side (the side with the water) of the dough into the sesame seeds then place sesame seed side down on a baking sheet. Repeat with all the remaining pieces of dough.

Bake for 12 minutes, then take out the tray and flip the breads over. Bake for another 12 minutes.

Peanuts and Sugar Mixture:

2/3 c. roasted, unsalted peanuts (I buy mine at Trader Joes)
1/4 c. sugar

Place in a mini food processor/chopper. Mix until finely ground. Store in an airtight container.