Monday, November 29, 2010

New Traditions

Bread for Thanksgiving!
Thursday was my very first American Thanksgiving. I'm sure that if someone had peered in through the windows, the scene would have looked almost pastoral, evocative of an America that now exists only in oil on canvas--a trestle table set for at least twelve, a crackling fire, a sumptuous spread, turkey and all. But, of course, we weren't conversing about quaint, old-timey things--we were laughing over zombie movies and Thompson-isms and ornery male turkeys. It was a grand old time.
I never really got Thanksgiving back home--apart from stuffing and mashed potatoes, I always thought it was a pretty ho-hum holiday. But this, I get--cooking all afternoon with a glass of wine in hand and then eating around a table full of friends and new faces. I could get used to this.
The bread, pictured above, was a hit with the Thanksgiving crowd. Potato, cheddar, and chive torpedoes from the BBA. I think I'm starting to get the hang of hearth baking.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Sourdough Boule
Late last week, I connected with someone else in the department who bakes bread. I had heard that he had started making sourdough during the summer, and unless you bake really frequently, maintaining your "mother" starter involves discarding some of it when you do get around to feeding it--so I jumped on the opportunity and unabashedly offered to take some discarded starter off of his hands.
On Tuesday, he kindly passed along a tupperware container of happily bubbling starter--so happy, in fact, that it popped off the lid with a modest boom in the middle of the class we have together. Oops.
But this starter, as you can see, isn't all mischief. By early afternoon today, even with the decidedly chilly temperatures in my apartment, I was in the good company of two lovely, burnished, mildly sour loaves.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Continuing Affair

Rosemary Potato Bread
My love affair with bread started in high school, when my biology teacher, Ms. Quinn (bless her heart!), decided that since we were studying microorganisms, yeast being among them, our homework for the next day would be to bake some sort of yeasted bread by hand--no bread machines, no stand mixers, just good old-fashioned muscle. Now, to this day, I'm not entirely clear on what the value of this experience was as far as biology went, but I was thrilled with the process, craft, and feeling of it all--I loved the way that the plush dough squished beneath my palms, the yeasty aroma of the dough after proofing, the transformation that happened in the blaze of the oven. I baked regularly through my senior year of high school, supplementing my school lunches with crusty slices of French bread and wedges of focaccia. I couldn't get over just how good fresh bread was.
And to this day, I still can't. I bake at least a loaf a week, usually two. It helps that grad-student life is very amenable to the rhythms of regular bread baking. I can start a loaf in the morning, read an article or two while it's proofing, de-gas and shape it, read some more, bake it, and then read until I can't wait any longer to cut into it. I lead a charmed life, I know. (Hah).
Poached egg
My favourite bread as of late is the Potato-Rosemary Bread from Peter Reinhart's BBA. While it baked, the kitchen smelled irresistibly lemony and sweet. And fresh from the oven, it was plush and herbal on the inside, crusty and golden on the outside. It makes for lovely toast in the morning, and I imagine that it would be sublime with a generous smear of lemon curd--Meyer lemon season, after all, is almost upon us. And, still thinking wistfully of summer barbecues, I'm sure that divided into smaller rounds, this bread would make great burger buns. A bread for all seasons.

Find the recipe with Deb at Smitten Kitchen.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

All the wine

Last night, a couple of friends came over with an abundance of chanterelles. We sauteed them in garlic and white wine, laid them in beds of arugula, and tucked them into crepes dressed with tarragon cream. And then we drank two bottles of wine and contemplated holding a two-day-long bourbon-tasting interspersed with trips to Shedd and the Oriental Institute. Lately, things have been somewhat unreal and utterly perfect.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sweetness never suits me

At the ripe old age of twenty-three, I find myself increasingly unable to enjoy particularly sugary things--and with seventeen and a half ounces of sugar having gone into the batch, these brownies were definitely far too much for me after the first few nibbles. Though they are certainly not your run-of-the-mill, grade-school-bake-sale brownies with their gooey pockets of bittersweet chocolatey goodness, satisfying chew, and shiny, crackly tops, for all that, they are just too sweet. Achingly sweet. (And, though the vegetable oil called for is what makes them so wonderfully chewy, no amount of Scharffen Berger disguises that slick, oily taste that only vegetable oil imparts.)
For what it's worth, Cook's Illustrated, I salute your efforts, but I'll leave these brownies to those youngsters and their bake sales from now on.