Friday, February 27, 2009

Peter Reinhart's Bagels

Gentle reader, I submit to you that I have gone crazy. Those who know me think I boarded that train long ago because I do things like make my own ginger ale and ricotta cheese, but that kind of stuff is so easy that I don't understand why more people don't do it... but this. This is insane. My friends, I am making bagels.

Shaped bagels, before proofing

I should know better- my first attempt at bagels was overzealous at best, and very poorly executed. In my ignorance, I trusted a random recipe from a forgettable recipe sharing website and spent several hours in the kitchen, elbow deep in sticky, uncooperative dough that seemed more suited for a fruit bread than a batch of bagels. Against better judgement, I struggled to knead, form, and boil my obnoxiously slimy hunks of bagel dough to no avail; indeed, by the end of the day, I was nothing more than a weeping fool surrounded by inedible pieces of overboiled, overbaked, oversweetened dough. So why would one desire to put themselves through such culinary trauma again, you ask? Well, it's pretty simple- I love bagels and haven't had a good one since I left the east coast. I had a coworker whose uncle owned a little bagel shop in NYC, and she made sure that all of us were well acquainted with his bagels... and boy, was I glad she did. My first bite into that hearty, chewy crust and dense crumb bought upon me the quick realization that I could never go back to the anemic bagel impostors to which I was accustomed; fortunately, my coworker enabled my bagel habit until I moved to Kansas. I've withstood 18 months of bagel sobriety, but I can't take it anymore. I need me a bagel, and I need it now.

After proofing

For bagel-making guidance, I turned to Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice. I've used several of his recipes and they have never been less than fabulous, and his bagel recipe doesn't disappoint. One batch of dough yielded twelve fantastic bagels that come thisclose to the New York bagel of which my dreams are made. They take some time and work, but they're well worth the effort. The suggested toppings are all savory, but for those of you who like sweet bagels, you can always alter the recipe to suit your taste. I'm a staunch savory girl when it comes to bagels, but my husband is a cinnamon raisin fiend, so I'll probably add some extra yeast, cinnamon, sugar, and dried fruit to the dough and top with cinnamon sugar for him next time.




Ingredients

Makes 12 large or 24 mini bagels

Sponge:

  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour (I used all purpose)
  • 2 1/2 cups water at room temperature

Dough:

  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 3 3/4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
  • 2 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon malt syrup OR honey OR brown sugar (I used brown sugar)

To Finish:

  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • Cornmeal or semolina flour for dusting the pan
  • Toppings for the bagels such as sesame seeds, poppy seeds, kosher salt, dried minced garlic or onions

Method

Day 1

  1. To make the sponge, stir the yeast into the flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the water, whisking or stirring until it forms a smooth, sticky batter. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature for two hours. It should swell to nearly double in size and collapse when the bowl is tapped on the countertop*.
  2. To make the dough, in the same mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer), add the additional yeast into the sponge and stir. Add 3 cups of the flour, brown sugar and the salt into the bowl and mix until all of the ingredients form a ball. You need to work in the additional 3/4 cups of flour to stiffen the dough, either while still mixing in the bowl or while kneading**. The dough should be stiffer and drier than normal bread dough, but moist enough that all of the ingredients are well blended***.
  3. Pour the dough out of the bowl onto a clean surface and knead by hand for about 10 minutes. There should be no raw flour - all the ingredients should be hydrated.
  4. The Windowpane Test: At this point, your dough needs to pass the windowpane test, which is a reliable method to determine when gluten development is sufficient. The test is performed by cutting off a small piece of dough from the larger batch and gently stretching, pulling, and turning it to see if it will hold a paper-thin, translucent membrane. If the dough falls apart before it makes this windowpane, continue mixing for another minute or two and test it again. The finished dough should feel satiny and pliable but not be tacky. If it seems too dry and rips, add a few drops of water and continue kneading. If it seems tacky or sticky, add more flour to achieve the stiffness required.
  5. Immediately after kneading, split the dough into 12 small pieces around 4 1/2 ounces each. Roll each piece into a ball and set it aside. When you have all 12 pieces made, cover them with a damp towel and let them rest for 20 minutes.
  6. To shape the bagels, poke a hole in a ball of bagel dough, gently rotate your thumb around the inside of the hole to widen it to approximately two and a half inches in diameter. The dough should be as evenly stretched as possible.
  7. Place the shaped bagels on a lightly oiled sheet pan, with an inch or so of space between one another (use two pans, if you need to). If you have parchment paper, line the sheet pan with parchment and spray it lightly with oil before placing the bagels on the pan. Cover the pan with plastic and allow the dough to rise for about 20 minutes.
  8. The suggested method of testing whether the bagels are ready to retard is by dropping one of them into a bowl of cool water. If the bagel floats back up to the surface in under ten seconds it is ready to retard. If not, it needs to rise more. If it floats, then you passed the test, too! Place the bagels in the refrigerator (covered in plastic) and retard overnight. If the bagel does not float, return it to the pan and continue to proof the dough at room temperature, checking back every 10 to 20 minutes until a tester floats.

Day 2

  1. The following day, preheat the oven to 500F with two racks set in the middle of oven.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add one tablespoon of baking soda to the pot to alkalize the water. When the pot is boiling, drop a few of the bagels into the pot one at a time and let them boil for a minute (two minutes if you like your bagel extra chewy).
  3. Use a large, slotted spoon or spatula to gently flip them over and boil them on the other side.
  4. Before removing the bagels from the pot, sprinkle cornmeal onto the sheet pan. Remove them one at a time, set them back onto the sheet pan, and sprinkle your topping them right away, while they are still slightly moist.
  5. Repeat this process until all of the bagels have been boiled and topped.
  6. Place the sheet pan into the preheated oven and bake for 5 minutes, rotate the pans, reduce the heat to 450 degrees, and bake for another 5-10 minutes (depending on how dark you like your bagel) until the bagels begin to brown . Remove the pan from the oven and let cool.

Notes:

* My kitchen is incredibly drafy, and my house is cold, so I usually set the oven on warm for 8-10 seconds, turn it off, and let the sponge (or dough, or whatever else needs some warmth to aid the little yeasty beasties) rise in the oven. Works every time... just don't let it get too warm in there.

**A batch will not fit into the standard 5 quart KitchenAide- mine started making unnatural, painful sounding noises when I tried, so I pulled the dough from the bowl and kneaded by hand. Even though I used bread flour instead of the preferred high-gluten flour, the dough passed the membrane test after 10 or 11 minutes of kneading. I've seen on other blogs that people used AP flour (please, don't do this. You're better off going to the grocery store for some Lender's at that point) and they had to knead by hand for half an hour or more.

***I had to add a bit more water (I'm guessing just under 1/4 cup) to get the right consistency. Don't add extra water or flour right away, though- knead it for a minute or two to work in all the existing moisture.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Buttermilk Fantails

I loathe mail. It's never good. No one sends happy, well-wishing cards or friendly letters- just utility bills, medical bills, and ads for the latest oil change specials at the local dealerships. It's depressing. Fortunately, my wonderful mother gave me a subscription to Gourmet for Christmas, so I now have a tiny light at the end of my mailbox, a glimmer of hope, and a reason to hug my mailman sometime during the third week of every month. Fortunately for the mailman, I'm usually not home when he comes around... Anyways, last month's edition of Gourmet had me jauntily skipping back to my kitchen after I saw the front cover :

I mean, really- how can that NOT make you happy?

I love bread in almost all forms- so much so, that I rarely make any at home to serve with meals. It's unfortunate, because I love making bread as much as I love eating it. Something about the process of kneading dough is very therapeutic and rewarding. But alas, I have no self control, and I fear that if I were to bake bread on a regular basis, my carbaholic husband and I would turn into starched-out porkers faster than you can say "pass the dipping oil, please." The hubs has begged, pleaded, bribed, and put on his puppy dog eyes in several attempts to break my resolve, but I am not so easily swayed. I have staunchly avoided making bread to serve with dinner, with the exception of holidays and days that I know the hubs has had it rought at work, and I do occasionally make a good French baguette for the poor man. Come on, I'm not completely heartless.

So imagine his surprise when he came home to these delicious little beauties the other day. I told him I made them because we were having company, but the truth is that I just really wanted to try one... or two... ok, four. I love how fussy they look, yet how easy they are to prepare. Did I mention that they're really tasty? The flavor is well-balanced, but I think I like the texture even more. Each substantial, yet not too heavy petal turns into a little pillow of fluffy, buttery goodness in your mouth. They're not head-over-heels insanely delicious, but they are very good rolls that I will be making again.

Buttermilk Fantails
(Adapted from February 2009 Gourmet)
  • 1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, divided
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast (from a 1/4-oz package)
  • 1/4 cup warm water (105–115°F)
  • 1 tablespoon mild honey or sugar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour plus more for kneading and dusting
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
  • Equipment: a muffin pan with 12 (1/3- to 1/2-cup) muffin cups
Directions:

1. Butter muffin cups with 1 Tbsp melted butter.

2. Stir together yeast, warm water, and honey in a large bowl and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If mixture doesn't foam, start over with new yeast.)

3. Mix flour, salt, buttermilk, and 6 Tbsp melted butter into yeast mixture with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until a soft dough forms. Turn out dough onto a well-floured surface and knead, dusting surface and your hands with just enough flour to keep dough from sticking, until dough is elastic and smooth, 6 to 8 minutes. Form dough into a ball.
4. Put dough in an oiled large bowl and turn to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

5. Punch down dough (do not knead), then halve. Roll out half of dough on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin into a 12-inch square (about 1/8 inch thick; keep remaining half covered with plastic wrap).
6. Brush dough with 1/2 Tbsp butter and cut into 6 equal strips. Stack strips, buttered sides up, and cut crosswise into 6 equal pieces. Turn each piece on a side and put into a muffin cup. Make more rolls with remaining dough in same manner. Separate outer layers of each roll to fan outward. Cover rolls with a kitchen towel (not terry cloth) and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled and dough fills cups, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

7. Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle. Bake rolls until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Brush tops with remaining 2 Tbsp butter, then transfer rolls to a rack and cool at least 20 minutes.
Cooks’ note: Rolls are best the day they’re made but can be frozen (cool completely, then wrap well) 1 month. Thaw, then reheat on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven until warmed through, 5 to 10 minutes.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Buttah!



For the past few weeks, the hubs and I have been getting our milk from a friend's coworker who raises grass-fed cows. Yep, this guy does it the right way: no weird hormones, no additives- just a bunch of smiling cows happily munching on good old-fashioned grass. Forget the fact that this produces healthier milk for us humans to drink and that it's a very PETA-friendly way to treat your pet bovines- the only thing I care about is how much better it tastes than the store-bought kind. I didn't even realize that store-bought, pasteurized milk had a funky aftertaste until I tried the real stuff (take that, Louis!). There's no going back, now! This, my friends, is milk done right!

As much as I looooove me some fresh mama cow juice, it gets better. The crown jewel of this un-homogenized goodness is the cream that rises ever-so-slowly to the top. After skimming the cream and imagining the dozens, nay, SCORES of ways I could transform it into something delectable, I decided to go all-out Little House on the Prairie and make butter... and boy, was it worth it!

Here comes my little confessional: I am embarrassed by how long it took me to actually make this butter. I am in no ways limited in my culinary skills, but for some reason, small things escape me from time to time when I'm making something incredibly simple and it ends up taking entirely too much time and effort. This was one of those times. All you have to do is agitate the cream for a bit until you see some cute little curdles start to form, and then just keep agitatin'! The little bit of useful information that I missed was that the cream needs to be cold. VERY cold. Colder than I anticipated, apparently.

I started with the shake-it-in-a-jar-until-your-arms-fall-off method, which didn't result in much more than frothy cream (perfect for hot chocolate or coffee, but not what I was going for). Then, I poured the cream into my kitchenaide and whipped it until I thouroughly exhausted the poor motor, but ended up with nothing more than whipped cream with an AMAZING consistency (again, very nice, but not butter!). At this point, about an hour into the process, I had pretty much given up on the butter and decided to experiment with the paddle attachment, which pretty much turned my lovely mound of whipped cream back into liquid, leaving me right where I started. Ugh.

I poured the cream back into the shaking jar and put it in the freezer to re-chill it while I tended to dinner. Thanks to my ever-present ADD and a really cool food blog I recently discovered, I ended up leaving the cream in the deep freeze about 20 minutes longer than I had planned, which turned out to be exactly what it needed. I started shaking the jar, and within just a few minutes, I had curdles; after another minute or two, I had a solid ball of butter sitting in buttermilk! And no, it didn't occur to me until this point that I would have fresh buttermilk as a byproduct! After a quick rinse in cold water and a pat-down with a clean paper towel, I finally had pure, unadulterated butter with which I plan to slather something warm and yeasty... or something with a more appealing description.


To make butter: Pour cold cream (use cream that is a few days old) into a large widemouth jar that leaves enough room for ample agitation and shake what your mama gave ya! After several minutes, you will start to see curdling- keep shakin'! A few more minutes will give you a solid ball of butter. Remove butter and rinse in a shallow bowl of very cold water by gently pressing the ball of butter while in the water. Drain water and repeat with fresh water until no more buttermilk is expelled (this prevents spoilage). Pat dry. Strain leftover buttermilk from jar through cheesecloth or very fine strainer and save for later baking use!


At this point, you can add salt or herbs to flavor the butter. I find that a tiny bit of salt enhances the flavor, but it's delicious as is. You can shape it into sticks or bars (or wild boars and unicorns, if you really want to), but whatever you do, make sure you keep it wrapped in wax paper or parchment paper to avoid absorption of any funky flavors or odors that happen to be lurking around your fridge.

So there you have it, dear reader- butter the way it should be. I leave you with an old Dutch proverb: Eat butter first, and eat it last, and live 'til a hundred years be past.


Until next time!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

On a Cold Winter's Eve...

Nothing beats a good soup when the mercury drops! The hubs and I have been craving good Thai food for months, but haven't been able to find the proper ingredients for even a good spring roll- until we recently stumbled upon a Thai market about 45 minutes from our house. Sadly, I didn't have my camera with me, but just trust me when I say that the market was surrounded by a host of angels singing the most beautiful rendition of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus as we entered... ok, so maybe that was only in my head, but it was still very exciting. The market was massive and had a melange of products from all over Southeast Asia- they even had durian. DURIAN! IN KANSAS! I'm not under the illusion that it would taste even remotely fresh, but it warmed my heart to see that strange green hedgehog of a fruit sitting haplessly on its little table.

We picked up several items with which we could prepare Tom Kha Goong, a wonderful Thai soup that fully orchestrates several staple items of Thai cuisine into a wonderful symphony of flavor. Mildly sweet coconut; subtly spicy curry; salty fish sauce; and the clean bite of lime and galangal interplay with each other and create a wonderfully creamy yet light soup that has earned a coveted slot on my list of things to make more than once.


Ingredients:

1 stalk lemongrass, outer sheath and hard ends removed, cut into large pieces.
1 TBS canola oil
1 medium onion finely minced
1 garlic clove, finely minced
2 tsp. red curry paste
6 1/8"slices of unpeeled fresh galangal
3 Kaffir lime leaves
3 cups of chicken stock plus 1 jar clam juice (about 3/4 c)
1 lb raw tiger prawns, heads and legs removed
2 cups of shiitake or oyster mushrooms, sliced
1 can of unsweetened coconut milk
Juice from 2 limes
2 TBS nam pla

Garnish:
3 scallions trimmed and sliced on a bias
1/4 cup minced cilantro

First, heat the oil in a heavy saucepan and add the onion and garlic. Add lemongrass, galangal, curry paste, and lime zest. This, incidentally, is my favorite step- to just stop and realize how GOOD this smells!

Next, add the chicken stock and clam juice and boil for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and add mushrooms, then let stand for at least an hour to allow flavor development.

Bring soup to a simmer and add coconut milk. Add tiger prawns and simmer until they are cooked through (just a few minutes), then add nam pla and lime juice. Remove galangal and lemongrass. Serve garnished with scallions and cilantro.



*Cook's notes:

1. I adapted this recipe from Jo at Amuse Bouche (http://countingsheep.typepad.com/amuse_bouche/).

2. I would prefer to use 4 cups of seafood stock instead of the chicken stock/clam juice mixture, but due to locale, seafood stock isn't available. If you can find seafood stock, use it! Also, I had to substitute lime zest for 3 Kaffir lime leaves because my local market was sold out :(.

3. To make the chicken version of this dish, use 4 cups of chicken stock and substitute chicken for the shrimp. I've made it both ways, and personally, I like the shrimp version much better :).

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Gag reflex, ACTIVATE!

I am making baked beans for dinner tonight and needed to pick up a meaty pork bone to slow-cook with the beans. After my workout this morning, I went to the local grocery store and headed to the produce section first, because I can't seem to walk into a grocery store without perusing the fruit and veg. As usual, I was disappointed to find congealed spinach leaves, woody asparagus (some of which I could peel from the bottom like an onion- that was new), and soft cukes, so I headed back to the meats to find my pork bone. I could not find what I needed on the sales floor, so I approached the butcher's counter to ask if they had any in back. After waiting at the counter for a full ten minutes, an employee finally came to my aid and told me they had no pork bones... Fair enough, but as he told me this, a thick stream of mucus dripped from his red-rimmed nose onto his shirt, his hand, and the counter on which he was working. At this point, I was a bit grossed out, but I politely ignored it because there is a nasty cold going around- but then, to my horror, he turned around and grabbed beef WITHOUT CLEANING HIS HANDS OR THE COUNTER!!! And then he put the beef right in the snot on the counter! I have seen some distasteful things at this particular store, but nothing on that level before! The kicker is that he didn't even wait for me to walk away, or at least pretend at cleanliness! Do you know how happy I was that they had no pork bones?!?

In fairness, I don't want to give the impression that the stores around here are grimy, dirty little holes that need to be put out of their misery with some lighter fluid and a flame thrower. They are usually quite clean, but somehow things like moldy produce and cockroaches (and, in one case, a rodent) show up fairly often.

In the end, I got my pork bone from a different store of the same chain, because that's the only option within an hour of my house... and I am now enjoying the smells of molasses and brown sugar baked beans slowly simmering with a large, meaty, and hopefully body fluid-free pork bone.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Linguini Carbonara for Deux!

Ladies and gents, I have found my new favorite go-to dish.

The other night, the hubs and I were planning to spend a long evening at home, during which I had planned to make a pizza with chanterelles, spinach, proscuitto, and chevre (yum!). But, as is normal on a Friday night, our plans changed when a good friend called us with a last-minute game night invitation, leaving me with only 45 minutes to scrounge together a quick meal, eat, and make it to our friend's house. After a quick perusal of the pantry, I decided to try my hand at linguini carbonara.

Pasta carbonara is an incredibly delicious yet easy dish to prepare, and it only takes about fifteen minutes from start to finish. It is at once comforting and surprising: the smoky undertones lent by bacon and the pungent heat from peppercorns are perfectly balanced by the velvety smoothness of yolks and cheese. For the palate, this dish is a lesson of perfection in simplicity; for the stomach, it is deeply satisfying.

I like the adaptability of pasta carbonara- you can increase or decrease the pepper, egg, and cheese, depending on how peppery and how creamy you like your sauce. I would like to insert a disclaimer, though: I do not enjoy the American version made with cream- it's too heavy for a carbonara, and it interferes with the incredibly ethereal texture that only unadulterated egg yolks can create. I prefer the old-school, cream-free method. I should also mention that this dish involves raw egg, so if you have bacteriaphobic tendencies, you probably won't care for it.

Before I dive in , I want to pass on a few notes about the ingredients. First, carbonara is traditionally made with guanciale (pork cheek that is seasoned and cured for a few weeks), but I live in Kansas and won't be finding local guanciale any time soon, so I used bacon. Pancetta would be better than bacon, but again- small town living calls for desperate measures! Secondly, freshly-crushed peppercorns MAKE this dish. Don't use the powdered stuff. Thirdly, use a good-quality block of parmigiano-reggiano. None of that pre-grated stuff in a tub (or worse, that canned powder...euhhh...). Ok, now that that's out of my system, onward we go!

mise en place... and the wonderful riesling I sipped while cooking
(Please forgive the poor-quality photos. I was rushed).

Ingredients (makes enough for one small and one large appetite) :

enough sea salt to salt your pasta water
1/4 lb bacon, diced
1/3 lb linguini (or preferred pasta)
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons (or to taste) of whole black peppercorns, crushed
1 1/2 cups freshly-grated parmigiano-reggiano
2 roma tomatoes, diced

First, heat a pot of well-salted water to a boil and cook the linguini to al-dente. Some people like to continually boil pasta, and others remove it from the heat and let it sit to cook. Do what makes you happy. Once the pasta has reached al dente, drain, but reserve some of the pasta water. Put the linguini back into the pot or into a large bowl.

While the pasta cooks, brown the bacon in a small skillet. Instead of browning it in olive oil, I melted a little bit of bacon fat in the pan while it heated, then added the bacon to do its wonderful magic in its own juices. Cook until nicely browned, then drain the fat. Add the bacon to the drained pasta.

Temper the egg yolks (see note below)*with a bit of the hot pasta water to prevent them from scrambling, then stir the yolks into the pasta. Stir in enough parmigiano-reggiano for desired consistency and add the crushed peppercorns. You can garnish with romas, as I had planned, but I ended up eating my linguini carbonara without them because I remembered how much I hate out-of-season tomatoes, and because this dish is superb without any extras.

So there you have it! Next time, I am taking cues from my friend Kirsten and making Tom Ka Gai soup... Until then, Bon Appetit!






*Tempering eggs prevents them from scrambling when they hit the hot noodles/pot by using a warm liquid to slowly increase the temperature of the eggs. To do this, just drizzle a little bit of pasta water into the yolks while constantly stirring them. I drizzled a few tablespoons into my yolks and had no scrambling issues.