Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sourdough Pita

Back in the day I seem to remember living not far from a wonderful Middle Eastern market. It was just beyond the limits of the Italian Market, so it was in good company. They had the tangiest Greek yogurt, the most flavorful Kalamata olives, the creamiest hummus and the absolute best, best, best pita bread. This pita was a work of art, it was large, twice as big as your basic super market pita and a beautiful irregular shape. It was super fresh and tender, but the bestest part was that this large, tender pita was smothered, totally smothered in zahtar. The first time I bit into that sour sumac pungency I was hooked for life. Unfortunately we moved and I've never come across a pita like it since.

Well, the February Sourdough Surprises has given me a chance to recreate this stellar pita.  And I think I finally had an epiphany as it regards my starter, like feed it then use it! I'm a slow learner and have to learn by doing. I can read directions till my face turns blue but once I do something a few times, I've got it. 

So this time I fed my starter, waited about an hour till it got goin and took out a good cupful. As you can see my dough doubled up no problem! Of course I could have really used this insight when I was making Babka Brioche instead of a flat bread! Hello learning curve...

Anyway, these were a big hit served warm from the oven with fresh hummus and Greek olives. They aren't exactly as I remember the ones from the old market but they're a good starting point for further experimentation.  

sourdough pita with zahtar

1 cup freshly fed sour dough starter (100% hydration)
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus some for brushing
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup zahtar 

In a stand mixer, combine flour, salt and sugar. Add oil to warm water and add along with starter to the flour mixture. Beat on low until everything comes together. Turn the speed on medium and beat for a minute or so. Turn the dough on to a clean surface and knead it a few turns, it should fell a bit tacky. Form a ball and place it into an oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a clean towel and put it in a warm, draft free place until it doubles in bulk, mine took about 3 hours. 

Turn out the dough and knead it briefly. Divide into 5 equal portions. Keep the dough balls covered as you roll one at a time, I found that I didn't need any additional flour. Roll out to roughly 5 or 6 inches, cover and let sit for an hour.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees and place a pizza stone or sheet pan on the lowest rack. Working one at a time, brush each pita with olive oil and sprinkle with zahtar. Carefully lift the pita, it may cling just a bit but will yield to a gentle touch, open the oven door and, again being very careful not to get burned or drop the pita, with one quick motion sort of toss it onto the hot stone. This takes a little practice, but it's worth the effort. Cook each pita for 4 or 5 minutes or until the bread has bubbled up and is lightly browned around the edges. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

So So Brownies

Brownies? Really? 

Maybe I didn't eat enough chocolate on Valentine's Day (not to mention leading up to Valentine's Day) or more like I ate too much and I'm chasing that rush, but whatever the reason, I found myself making brownies today.  Dats right, after Valentine's brownies. Listen up.

For years I made brownies with melted bitter chocolate. This meant a lot of agonizing chopping of bitter chocolate. It was no fun in the summer when the chocolate just melted all over my hands and worse in the winter when the chocolate was hard as a rock. Of course one bite of a fresh brownie and I would forget all about the trouble I went through to make them. At the time I didn't even realize there was another way to make brownies; an easier way, a better way, a tastier way. A few years back I discovered cocoa brownies and I've never looked back.

Maybe you think the last words have already been said about brownies, but I beg to differ. In researching this post I came across so many recipes that claimed to be the best cocoa brownies, such as this, this and this, that I figured I had to call mine so so brownies because they were so, so much better. Dark, moist, chewy, light and sweet without being cloyingly so. The texture is sort of like  a souffle you eat with your hands. So perfect with a glass of milk or a cup of coffee. So indulgent under a mound of ice cream and a coat of hot fudge. So able to stand naked, so ready to be smothered with confectioners sugar. So rich as is, and so much more so stuffed with nuts, chopped chocolate, raisins or whatever you feel like putting in them. So there, 'nuff said.

so so brownies
1 cup raw sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar lightly packed
1 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 cup cocoa, sifted
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup almond flour
1/2 white whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and butter and flour an 8 inch square pan. In a large bowl whisk together almond flour, flour, cocoa and baking powder and set aside. In a medium bowl combine sugars, butter, eggs and vanilla extract and whisk just to combine. 

Fold wet into dry with a spatula just until it's all incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until they feel slightly bouncy to the touch and you notice they are coming away from the sides of the pan. Makes 16 brownies.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lemon Drop Muffins

Here's another golden oldie from my early days as a baker.  We always made these muffins with poppy seeds, which certainly is a fine way to go, but this time around I cut out the seeds and went for a crunchy sugar top with extra bling. They remind me of little lemon drop candies, hence the name. Fresh lemon rind and juice are essential, 3 should do you. Zest all the lemons and then juice them and measure from there. And don't skimp on separating the eggs. The extra effort of whipping the egg whites creates a light and tender muffin that sets it apart from the pack.

You can also make these muffins with fresh blueberries (gently fold in about 1 and 1/2 cups right before they go in the muffin tins) and don't think I won't as soon as they come into season. But until then, since it's obvious the groundhog was wrong and there's still all kinds of nasty weather out there, these sweet-tart lemon muffins are the perfect antidote to the winter blues.

lemon drop muffins

1 & 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
1 & 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt  
1/2 cup soft butter 
1/2 cup raw cane sugar plus 1 tablespoon for egg whites
rind of two lemons
4 tablespoons lemon juice
2 egg yolks
2 egg whites

top bling

4 tablespoons melted butter
4 tablespoons white sugar
rind of one lemon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. In a stand mixer, cream butter, add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks and lemon rind. Add flour mixture alternately with lemon juice. At this point the mixture may seem dry but don't worry it will loosen up when the whites go in. In a small metal bowl whip egg whites and 1 tablespoon of sugar with a wire whisk until stiff but not dry and gently fold into main mixture. Divide evenly into muffin tins lined with cupcake papers

Bake for 20-25 minutes. Cool on wire rack and when cool enough to handle pop out of muffin tins. Combine white sugar and lemon rind. When completely cool dip each muffin into melted butter and then sugar mixture. Makes 10 muffins, serve immediately. 


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Anadama Bread

When life gives lemons you make lemonade and when life gives you a snow storm you make bread. The making of bread during and after a snow storm is good on so many levels. It keeps you occupied, warms up the house and most important, provides you with fresh bread which further keeps you occupied and warms you up.

Finding Nemo on my doorstep this morning (we just got the tail end of this and it really wasn't that bad here) I, of course, just had to make bread. It doesn't hurt that it's Saturday and that's when I feed the sour dough starter so I had an extra cup to add to the mix. This recipe is straight out of Beard on Bread with just a few alterations. I love the picture of James on the back dust cover showing him holding what looks like a giant paleolithic rock fossil but is actually a loaf of rustic bread.

If you've never make Anadama bread, here's your chance to get to it. Beard's recipe calls for white flour but I used white whole wheat flour so the crumb is tight and the texture is chewy. The recipe also has corn meal (I used corn flour this time) and molasses, transforming what is basically a white bread into something richer, better, darker. Its over the top toasted with butter and jam, out of this world when used for French toast and turns your favorite sandwich into a special occasion. Are you making this already?

anadama bread

1 package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon raw sugar
3/4 cup warm water
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup molasses
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup sour dough starter
1/2 cup corn flour
3 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour 

Stir the yeast and sugar into 1/4 cup of warm water and let proof for 5 minutes. Heat the rest of the water, butter, molasses and salt in a pot just until warm. Add the proofed yeast, molasses mixture, sour dough starter  and corn flour to the bowl of a stand mixer and mix to combine. Add the flour a little at a time until a sticky dough forms. 

Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured surface and knead dough until smooth and in Beards' words "springy". Form dough into a ball and put into a buttered bowl. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and a clean towel and leave in a warm, draft free spot to double in size. Mine took about 2 hours. 

Punch down the dough and shape into a loaf, tuck into a buttered and floured (again I used corn flour)  8 1/2 by 4 inch loaf pan. Cover and let rise until doubled in size. Once the loaf  has risen, preheat oven to 425 degrees and bake for ten minutes then lower to 350 degrees and bake for 30 to 35 minutes more. When done the loaf will make a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes before turning out of the pan.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Sweet Potato Beignet

Beignet? Yes, I was in New Orleans once with an ex-boyfriend. It wasn't Mardi Gras and we didn't stay there but maybe two days. There were no beads, no booze and no big celebration.  I remember walking down Bourbon Street, hearing the music spill out from the bars but we didn't go in any. Of course we ate jambalaya, at some little tourist trap. We spent half an hour in a cemetery where all the graves were above ground until it became too ghoulish. We walked around Lake Pontchartrain and got sunburned. But that was the extent of it. You see, we had to get ourselves to Galveston TX so we could stay at a hotel for Merchant Marines.  A hotel, I might add, where one wing was condemned (it was right across the hall from us); a motel were we had to share a bathroom with an old Portuguese sailor. Because, you know, we thought we were in a Jack Kerouac novel. But what I'm really getting at here is that no, I never had a beignet at Cafe du Monde, so this sad, rambling story is my only reference point for beignet.

Time and place have a lot to do with the taste of things. I'm sure my beignet would taste mind blowing if I was eating them at Cafe du Monde. And their beignets would lose some cache if I was eating them on my couch in my pajamas. But memory also plays a part in the enjoyment of food as Proust will tell you, so I am tasting New Orleans in my beignets.

Actually these beignets were amazing. Golden crisp and sugary on the outside (I coated half with cinnamon sugar and half with 10X), tender and moist on the inside. The recipe made 12 and I was on my way to eating all of them when my sister came in the kitchen and I offered her one and she ate two. They're perfect for breakfast, snacking, dessert or as my sis suggested, with Champagne. Now that's a celebration!

3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/2 cup cooked, mashed sweet potato
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 egg
vegetable oil for frying
cinnamon sugar for rolling
confectioners sugar for sprinkling

Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl mix potato, ricotta cheese and egg. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry and mix to combine. Spoon out 12 portions, I kept mine irregular so they would hold the sugar better, and set aside.

Heat about 2 or 3 inches of vegetable oil to 360 degrees. Fry 3 or 4 biegnet at a time, turning as necessary to insure even frying, for 2 or 3 minutes each or until golden. Drain on paper towels. Roll in cinnamon sugar or sprinkle with confectioners sugar. Serve warm, makes 12, try to share.