Thursday, May 21, 2020

Island Banana Bread

I feel like I’m missing out on some of the quarantine kitchen fads. I already enjoyed baking with sourdough, and I already cooked a lot. So, the newfound popularity of those things isn’t really affecting me. Maybe baking banana bread was an attempt to jump onto a bandwagon, any bandwagon. But, this particular version sounded so good, I had to give it a try. It’s from Toni Tipton-Martin’s new book Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking of which I received a review copy. After the years she spent researching the African American cookbook authors whom she wrote about in The Jemima Code, she next wanted to share a “broadened African American food story.” She writes that this new book “celebrates the enslaved and the free, the working class, the middle class, and the elite. It honors cooking with intentionality and skill, for a purpose and with pleasure.” It reaches beyond stereotypical ideas about soul food or southern food and displays the practiced cooking ability of cooks past and present. Some of the recipes are modern takes on dishes found in historical cookbooks, and those original recipes are included as sidebars for reference. Other dishes are inspired by contemporary chefs and cooks. Tipton-Martin explains the source and her changes for each. There’s a nice focus on hospitality and cooking for friends and family with recipes for everything from appetizers to dessert. The beverages chapter had me craving cocktails with Planter’s Punch with bourbon and Rum Punch. And, although the Calypso Coffee with chocolate and rum is suggested as an after-dinner drink, I’d love it for brunch too. In the breads chapter, I’m fascinated with the Quick Cinnamon Rolls made with a baking powder biscuit-like dough. There are also several versions of cornbread to consider along with muffins, biscuits, and sweet potato bread. Moving through the book, you’ll find gumbos and a crawfish bisque, and a peanut soup that sounds delightfully decadent with butter, cream, peanut butter, and hot sauce. There’s a Sweet Potato Salad with orange-maple dressing and pecans and raisins that sounds light and lovely for a fall meal and an intriguing dish called Beets Etouffee that’s a saute of beet matchsticks with green apple. In the main dishes chapter, the Lamb Curry is a combination of ideas from Alexander Smalls and J.J. Johnson, Marcus Samuelsson, and Dunston Harris. The flavors from green pepper, celery, and garlic plus the spices, rum, and lime sound like a mixture I’d love to try on chicken or tofu or a spoon. There are also several classic desserts. But, I had to flip back to the breads chapter for the Island Banana Bread. It was adapted from a B. Smith recipe and gets great color and flavor from molasses and dates. 

Toasted, chopped pecans and pitted and chopped dates were tossed with a little flour and set aside. Next, flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger were whisked together. With a mixer, softened butter, brown sugar, or muscovado as I opted for, were combined until light. Then, eggs were added one at a time. In a third bowl, bananas were mashed with molasses, buttermilk, and vanilla. The flour mixture was mixed into the butter in three additions alternating with the banana mixture. Last, the nuts and dates were folded in. The batter was scraped into a prepared loaf pan and baked for about an hour. 

I don’t make banana bread very often, but it’s nice to have it on hand. Toasted slices slathered with butter made some delicious breakfasts while it lasted. And, flavors from the spices, dates, and molasses were lovely here. I’m going to try those Quick Cinnamon Rolls next, and who knows, they just might become the next big baking fad.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Black Bean-Chipotle Falafel Mini Burgers

Beans seem to be having their heyday as they’ve been flying off the shelves, and everyone who had never tried Rancho Gordo before is now placing orders. That has made it good timing for a new a cookbook devoted to beans. I was delighted to receive a review copy of Cool Beans: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking with the World's Most Versatile Plant-Based Protein by Joe Yonan. As someone who has always been a fan of beans, I think it’s great there are so many new bean enthusiasts even though it’s made availability a little more challenging right now. My hope is that everyone continues to enjoy them, and supply and variety increase to meet demand. This new book offers a wide array of dishes to use just about every type of bean there is. There are snacks, salads, soups, handhelds, main dishes, and even drinks and desserts. You can choose to cook your own or open a can or two, and there’s a list of what beans are similar and can be substituted for each other. Yonan presents the recipes as entirely plant-based, but ingredient options include dairy-based butter and cheese. I’ve never met a bean dip or spread I didn’t like, so I loved seeing options like Spicy Ethiopian Red Lentil Dip and Garlicky Gigante Bean Spread in addition to several takes on hummus. The salads all look fresh and hearty at the same time. The Charred Zucchini, Corn, and Ayocote Bean Salad seems perfect for summer. And, I can’t wait to get my hands on some sungold cherry tomatoes for a weeknight meal of Quick Sungold Tomatoes, Chickpea, and Greens Curry. The Chickpea and Quinoa Chorizo sounds like something I’d like to have in my refrigerator at all times for use in tacos, especially breakfast tacos, and grain bowls. The Cannellini Cannelloni is fun to say and must be delicious to eat with a creamy bean filling and tomato sauce. The desserts involve sweetened beans and bean purees in inventive combinations and aquafaba, the liquid from canned chickpeas, stands in for eggs. I have my eye on a cocktail made with aquafaba instead of egg white for a foamy top. As soon as I open another can of chickpeas, I’m saving the liquid for the Salty Margarita Sour. First, I wanted to try a new-to-me technique for a bean burger. Rather than making a burger from cooked beans, these were made like falafel with soaked but not cooked beans. It makes all the difference in texture. 

As with falafel, beans, black beans in this case, were soaked overnight. The next day, the drained beans were added to the food processor with chopped onion, garlic, salt, and chipotle and pulsed. Mashed sweet potato was added to the mixture. In the book, the mixture is made into regular-size burgers, but I made mini burgers instead. They were placed on a baking sheet and chilled for a couple of hours before frying. I doctored some store-bought mayonnaise with chopped cilantro, garlic, lime juice, and salt and pepper, and gathered the other toppings including sliced pickled jalapeno, sliced tomato, and chopped lettuce. I served the mini burgers bunless with the toppings on the side. 

The soaked-but-not-cooked-beans concept definitely produces a good result and avoids mushiness. The falafel burgers were crisp on the outside and tender in the middle. Of course, chipotle always adds great flavor too. Next time, I’ll make them regular-size and maybe even use buns. And, there will definitely be a next time for these.

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Thursday, April 16, 2020

Hummingbird Cake

Early February seems like a lifetime ago, but that was when I came upon the recipe for this hummingbird cake. I had cut the page from Living magazine years ago and stored it in my magazine recipe files. When I saw this cake again, I decided at that moment that it would be my birthday cake this year. Little did I know that when my birthday arrived in late March, grocery shopping would be a completely different situation than what we all usually experience. I had no idea that I would be lucky to procure a fresh pineapple, canned pineapple, confectioners’ sugar, and even flour. This month, things seem to be settling a bit in availability of groceries. Although, some items are still either difficult to get or hit or miss at best. I am thankful that once upon a time, I made homemade confectioners’ sugar from granulated sugar in the blender just to see what I thought of the result. The result was great. It can be done if I find myself in need of it when there is none at the store. Recently, I’ve made homemade cold-brew coffee and oat milk, and now I wonder why I wasn’t always making those things myself. Both are quick, easy, and involve a lot less packaging when made at home. Scarcity at the stores brought about a positive outcome in those cases. But for this cake, getting all the ingredients wasn’t a sure thing. It felt like winning a prize to finally have everything I needed collected and ready for baking. The photo of this cake in the magazine is one of those food images that has been stuck in my memory since first seeing it. I knew that someday I would attempt the oven-dried pineapple flowers that decorate the top. Surprisingly, they were easier than expected, and I’m glad I went ahead with the project. My birthday this year was a necessarily quiet, little celebration at home, but there was cake! 

I made the pineapple flowers a couple of days in advance. You begin by cutting away the pineapple peel and cutting out the eyes all around. Then, the pineapple was turned on its side and sliced as thinly as possible. The slices were placed on baking sheets and dried in a 225 degree F oven for an hour or a bit longer. After 30 minutes, the slices were flipped, and the baking sheets were rotated. The dried slices can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days. The cake itself is similar to my favorite carrot cake recipe, but there was mashed banana instead of grated carrots. The batter also included cinnamon, crushed pineapple, chopped pecans, and unsweetened shredded coconut. I was able to get canned pineapple chunks but not crushed pineapple. So, I chopped up the chunks until they were similar in size to crushed. The frosting was a simple cream cheese frosting with just vanilla for flavor. I actually only made half the amount of frosting called for in the recipe, and it was plenty for my taste. The best part, of course, was setting the pineapple flowers on top. 

As a bonus, my kitchen smelled amazing while the pineapple flowers dried in the oven. And, any extras are delicious with yogurt for breakfast. While this year won’t be remembered as my favorite birthday given the circumstances, this cake might be my favorite birthday cake ever. I hope you’re finding everything you need or overcoming grocery shopping challenges however you can, and I hope you’re still celebrating every occasion in whatever ways are possible.

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Thursday, April 2, 2020

Rye Loaf with Currants

My memory is fuzzy on when I became a fan of Poilane. I remember seeing the shop in Paris on a TV show and immediately becoming enamored with the breads and the bakery’s process, but I don’t recall what show that was or when I saw it. I’ve read a lot about this famous bakery over the years, and I recently read more in Apollonia Poilane’s own words. I received a review copy of her new book, Poilane: The Secrets of the World-Famous Bread Bakery. She writes about her grandfather who opened the bakery in 1932 and began making the large sourdough loaves, how her father took the reins in the 1970s and expanded capacity by building La Manufacture Poilane outside of Paris, and the tragic loss of both of her parents in 2002 when she found herself in charge of the business. At the age of eighteen, she was running Poilane while attending college at Harvard. The book explains the changes the bakery has made from one generation to the next and the things that have never changed. The starter is maintained the same way it always has been, the bakers know by feel when the dough is mixed correctly and when it has risen enough, and the ovens are wood-fired as they always have been. The book includes all the information for creating and maintaining a starter just as they do and for baking sourdough loaves, and there are lots of other recipes too. There are other breads like the Black Pepper Pain de Mie and the Rye Loaf with Currants shown here. There are recipes for using bread including one for toast. Of course, Apollonia Poilane has a preferred way of making toast! And, she shares it. She pairs two pieces of bread and toasts them in one toaster slot so one side stays untoasted for texture variation. There are also croissants and brioche and jams for topping them all. One chapter is for main dishes that include bread or croutons or breadcrumbs, and the Savory Pain Perdu topped with chopped tomatoes looks like a great summer lunch. It was interesting to learn more about the Punitions. Those are the little butter cookies left in baskets for customers to nibble while waiting and are also sold by the box. In the bakery, they range in color from just golden to darker brown so each person can choose his/her preference. A generous, fellow food blogger once sent me a box of these cookies from Poilane as a gift. In the box, they were all light golden, and I didn’t know they’re usually intentionally baked to varying degrees of doneness. The recipes also include tarts, quick breads, crepes, and even an oat milk used in a rice pudding that I have to try. But first, let’s get back to the Rye Loaf with Currants. 

This loaf is made with some sourdough starter in addition to commercial yeast. The publisher was not able to provide the recipe and instructions for the sourdough starter, but I can tell you that my starter that I’ve used for ages and maintain at 100% hydration worked fine here. To begin, the currants were soaked in hot water before being strained while reserving that soaking liquid. The starter was mixed with rye flour, and I was fortunate to get some locally-milled rye flour from Barton Springs Mill. Yeast was added, and some of the currant soaking liquid was mixed in a separate bowl with salt before it was added to the flour mixture. The dough was shaped into a ball and left to rest before being shaped again and left to rise. After rising, it went into a loaf pan to proof for about two hours. Just before baking, the top of the loaf was brushed with the remaining currant soaking liquid. 

This is a delightfully easy bread to make once the timing is planned. The slices are delicious toasted and topped with butter, and all those currants make it taste like a sweet treat. I was surprised to read that Apollonia became interested in cornbread while living in the US and went on to develop a Corn-Flour Bread with hazelnuts that’s gluten-free and vegan with corn sourced from the Basque region. I’m looking forward to trying a Texas version of this with local cornmeal and pecans. I think she’d approve. 

Rye Loaf with Currants 
Recipe excerpted from Poilane Copyright 2019 by Apollonia Poilane. Photography Copyright 2019 by Philippe Vaures Santamaria. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. 

Makes one 9-by-5-inch (23-by-13-cM) loaf 

My father regularly ran home from the bakery before we went to school to drop off a small version of this loaf for our morning snack. He would cut it in half, add a generous pat of butter, and pack it for us to enjoy in his car. Today I still love to have a few slices—buttered or not—for breakfast or as a midmorning treat. We make this in metal loaf pans, but you can also shape it freeform. 

1 1/2 cups (240 g) dried currants 
2 1/2 cups (595 ml) hot water 
230 g (1 1/4 cups) starter  
435 g (3 cups plus 2 tablespoons) rye flour 
3/4 teaspoon (2 g) active dry yeast 
1 1/2 teaspoons (9 g) fine sea salt 
Neutral oil, such as canola or sunflower seed, for the pan 

Put the currants in a medium bowl, add the hot water, and let soak for 10 minutes. 

Set a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl and drain the currants; reserve the soaking liquid. Pat the currants dry with a paper towel and reserve. 

Put the starter in a large bowl. Add the rye flour and yeast. In a small bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups (355 ml) of the reserved soaking liquid (save the rest for brushing the loaf) and the salt, stir to dissolve the salt, and add to the flour mixture, along with the currants. With wet hands, mix and knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together in a smooth, homogeneous mass. Transfer the dough to a work surface and shape into a ball. Return it to the bowl and let rest for 15 minutes. 

Reshape the dough into a round, return to the bowl, cover with a cloth, and let rise for 1 1/2 hours. Brush a 9-by-5-inch (23-by-13-cm)pan with oil. Turn the dough out and, using wet hands to prevent sticking, shape it into a 9-by-4-inch (23-by-10-cm) log. Transfer to the oiled pan. 

Brush a piece of plastic wrap with oil, drape it over the loaf, and let it rise in a warm (72°F to 77°F/22°C to 25°C), draft-free place until it rises about 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) above the sides of the pan, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. 

Meanwhile, about 25 minutes before baking, position a rack in the lower third and preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). 

Use a pastry brush to brush the top of the loaf with the reserved currant-soaking liquid. Bake until the loaf is golden and firm, 45 to 50 minutes; if you carefully remove it from the pan, it should feel hollow when you knock on it. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 1 hour. 

Remove the loaf from the pan, return to the rack, and let cool completely before slicing. Stored in a paper bag or wrapped in linen at room temperature, the loaf will keep for up to 1 week. 

NOTE: As with our sourdough, you will either need to have the starter on hand or plan ahead to make it, which takes a couple of days.

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Friday, March 20, 2020

Roasted and Marinated Beets with Charred Kale and Hazelnut Vinaigrette

First, I hope anyone stopping by to read this is doing well. All is well in my home, and we’ve been staying in other than going for walks and runs since the weekend. I apologize for the irony here, but the terrific new book I want to tell you about today is Cooking for Good Times: Super Delicious, Super Simple [A Cookbook] by Paul Kahan. These are most certainly not good times, but we are all cooking more at home right now. Here’s my suggestion: rather than thinking about this book in terms of cooking for guests and parties and family get-togethers as it’s intended, instead maybe the dishes I mention below will inspire some new ideas to try for yourself and your family at home in the coming days. All the great suggestions from the book for entertaining can be kept in mind for future gatherings. I had the pleasure of visiting one of Kahan’s restaurants in Chicago, Avec, a few years ago. This book is inspired by the kind of conviviality and sharing of dishes that restaurant has always nurtured. So, the dishes in this book are more straightforward than chefy. I especially loved that the first chapter is called Make Some Food to Eat While You Cook. That implies the fun begins during the cooking, and maybe everyone is helping or at least hanging out while the cooking happens. The suggestions include marinated olives, things to spread on bread or crackers like beet and walnut dip, a charred summer squash-sesame dip that I can’t wait to try, two versions of hummus, and recipes for homemade bread and crackers. Each chapter begins with ideas for what drinks to pair with the following recipes. And, the chapters go through categories like cured meats as appetizers or parts of a meal, greens for all seasons, root vegetables, one devoted to versions of panzanella, and one just for grains, raclette, pizza, fish, chicken, pork, steak, and a few simple desserts. The Buy Some Greens chapter drew me in with the cold salads and warm dishes. The concept of charring greens in a ripping-hot cast iron skillet or on a hot grill was intriguing because you’re not fulling cooking the leaves. The goal is to just get the edges browned here and there while leaving the rest in a raw state. The charred kale with beefsteak tomatoes and pine nuts with a lemony vinaigrette sounds delicious. One of the salads on my list to try is the greens with tzatziki vinaigrette, potatoes, and green beans. The very next chapter, Roast Some Roots, also held me captive. The beet dish shown here today is from this chapter, and the roasted and marinated root vegetables with oranges, black olives, and feta as well as the roasted and marinated root vegetables with strawberries, ricotta, and pistachios caught my eye. In Toss Together Some Old Bread, you’ll find panzanella with Brussels sprouts, grilled onion, and crumbly cheese and Nicoise-style panzanella with tomatoes, green beans, olives, and anchovies. In the pizza chapter, I loved the suggestion for resting the dough in the refrigerator for up to three days. When you have the time, mix up a big batch of dough, divide into pizza-size pieces, shape the pieces into rounds, let them rest at room temperature for an hour, and then refrigerate to use any time in the next few days. The smoked whitefish, garlic cream, and marinated kale pizza recipe sounds especially good. I just realized I’ve mentioned charred and/or marinated kale in a few dishes, and I want to tell you more about it. 

To start the dish shown here, roasted and marinated beets are needed. At the beginning of the chapter with this recipe, there are instructions for roasting and marinating all kinds of root vegetables. My beets were very large, and I roasted them the day before making this dish. On the day I planned to serve it, I peeled the beets and cut them into wedges and marinated them in a mix of olive oil, orange juice, and crushed red chile flakes. The kale was washed, dried, and marinated in a vinaigrette of olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, salt, crushed red chile flakes, and black pepper. Grated parmigiana reggiano was to be added, but I skipped it to keep the recipe vegan. The beets and kale were marinated at room temperature for two hours, but they could have been refrigerated overnight instead. For the plated dish, a hazelnut vinaigrette was made with toasted and finely ground hazelnuts, walnut oil, red wine vinegar, minced shallot, salt, and pepper. I didn’t find hazelnut oil while shopping that day, and I used walnut oil instead. Next, a large cast iron skillet was heated for five minutes over high heat. Yes, it gets very hot. The marinated beets were added and cooked on one side for just one minute before being removed. Then, the marinated kale was added to the hot pan to char for one minute before being removed. In the book, burrata is recommended, and it would go on the plate first. I used a cashew yogurt mixed with a little minced garlic and salt and pepper and made a schmear on the plate. The kale and beets were scattered over top, everything was drizzled with the hazelnut vinaigrette, and chopped, toasted hazelnuts were sprinkled on for garnish and crunch. 

The mix of the nutty vinaigrette and the creamy yogurt were exactly right with the earthy beets and kale. And, I loved the browned edges resulting from charring. This book gives you lots of great ideas and flavor combinations, and more importantly, it gives you techniques to apply in lots of different ways. The charring step adds flavor and texture and can be used in a variety of dishes, the panzanella chapter opens a door to creativity with bread and vegetables in salad form, and the grains recipes work with any type of cooked grain you’ve got. I’m looking forward to cooking more from this now and in good times to come.

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Thursday, March 5, 2020

Golden Cashew Sauce with Chile and Lime Served with Black Rice and Panfried Tempeh

I have a vacation fantasy wherein a personal chef prepares all of my meals with fresh, nutritious ingredients put together just the way I like them. I have all the time in the world to explore whatever surroundings I’m visiting, do lots of yoga, go for long runs, and every lovely locally-sourced, organic snack, beverage, and meal appears perfectly-prepared just when I want it. In this particular fantasy, the food and drinks would look a lot like what you’ll find in the new book from Amy Chaplin, Whole Food Cooking Every Day: Transform the Way You Eat with 250 Vegetarian Recipes Free of Gluten, Dairy, and Refined Sugar of which I received a review copy. As I read the book, the same thought kept coming to mind: this is what I want to eat every day. The twenty chapters each present a base recipe or two followed by several variations on that main idea. The one exception is the Vegetables: Land and Sea chapter that includes a variety of dishes with different ingredients. The recipes are gluten-free, sometimes grain-free, and mostly vegan, but some options call for eggs and goat cheese is suggested here and there. This book gives you building blocks for putting together nutritionally-dense and variety-rich meals that completely bypass highly refined, processed, and artificial foods. Throughout, there are suggested ways to customize the recipes and ideas for what to pair them with for creating interesting twists and complete meals. The photos showing all the flavor variations in each chapter made me want to try every option. Among the chia bircher bowls and porridges in the first and second chapters alone, there are sweet, savory, simple, elaborately-garnished, spring, summer, fall, and winter directions to try. The gluten-free breads, with toppings options, had me longing to fill my freezer with them. I started with the Black Rice Sesame Bread made after soaking black rice and black sesame seeds overnight before grinding them with the remaining ingredients in the food processor to make the dough. The nutty, toasted slices of bread were delicious with smashed avocado and sliced hakurei turnips. There are nut and seeds milks to try, compotes, soups, bean dishes, dressings, sauces, crackers, bars, cakes, and more. I’ve made nut butter before, but I’d never thought of making coconut butter by grinding dried, unsweetened coconut in the food processor. The dressings, made mostly with vegetables and just a little oil, have inspired me too. The artichoke dressing with meyer lemon and chives is on my list. My second stop in the book was for the Berry Chia Pudding made with frozen strawberries cooked with orange juice to soften before being mixed with cashews, coconut butter, and vanilla. The puree was whisked with chia seeds and left in the refrigerator for serving with cacao nibs and freeze-dried strawberries. I also tried the Matcha Berry Muffins made grain-free with dried coconut, sunflower seeds, almond flour, and coconut flour. They were tender and light with just maple syrup and orange juice for sweetness. I couldn’t pass up the Date-Sweetened Granola made with a puree of softened dates and no other sweeteners. I loved that it included buckwheat groats since that’s become one of my favorite additions to granola. But, the dish I want to tell you all about today is from the Sauces chapter. 

All of the versatile sauces would work well for noodle dishes, paired with vegetables, or as dips. I quickly fell for the photo of the Golden Cashew Sauce with Chile and Lime shown served with black rice, panfried tempeh, and a tangle of sprouts. I set about recreating it. The base recipe for a Creamy Nut Sauce was followed with some additions. Chopped onion was sauteed in olive oil until golden, and then garlic was added along with grated fresh ginger and turmeric and chopped red chile. Mirin and water were added for deglazing and allowed to simmer. The mixture was transferred to a blender along with raw cashews, more water, tamari, and lime juice. The sauce can be made warm by adding boiling water to the blender, or it can be made at room temperature and reheated before serving. I browned some slices of tempeh, steamed some black rice, made a quick pickle of kohlrabi and carrots, and did my best to mimic the presentation shown in the book. 

The thick sauce added great flavor as each bite of tempeh was pulled through it. I’ll make it a bit thinner with more lime juice when I use it for a rice noodle dish with lots of cucumber and chiles. First, there’s so much more I want to try here. The crackers, waffles, bars, and cauliflower bakes all look so good. With all the recipe variations, meal plans, and prep tips, this book makes it easy to eat like this every day.

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Thursday, February 20, 2020

Panini Press Bread and Vegan Panini

I’ve been a fan, and customer, of Easy Tiger since it opened in Austin in 2012. And, I couldn’t have been more delighted when a second location opened closer to where I live. I routinely buy the Easy Tiger breads sold at Whole Foods with the big, levain loaf being a personal favorite. Obviously, I was thrilled to learn of the new book by David Norman, head baker and co-founder of Easy Tiger, and to receive a review copy of Bread on the Table: Recipes for Making and Enjoying Europe's Most Beloved Breads. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting David, talking a bit about bread, and comparing notes on sourdough preferences. I enjoy making a sourdough baguette while he prefers the simplicity of a baguette’s flavor without sourdough. He puts a lot of thought into the flavor and texture of different types of bread and knows of what he speaks. Full disclosure: I volunteer on the board of the Slow Food Austin chapter, and Easy Tiger has generously donated to our events in the past. In fact, one of our events is even mentioned in the book. The book traces David Norman’s journey through bread appreciation with chapters for regions he’s learned from over the years. It all began with an introduction to Swedish breads when he was a foreign-exchange student. The dramatic difference between Scandinavian breads and American-style white bread was eye-opening. He later began an incredible career in baking that has taken him to bakeries all across the US before finding his way to Texas. Each chapter highlights a place in the world and its style of bread with sample recipes followed by dishes to make using those breads. The first chapter covers French-style breads made with and without starters made with yeast and two loaves naturally fermented with levain. The Croque Monsieur recipe will make you want to make a homemade pain de mie right away. There are also chapters for Scandinavian Bread, German Bread, Italian Bread, and Bread in Central Texas. I want to get a rye sourdough starter going so I can make the Danish Rugbrod for smorrebrod and Swedish Vortbrod made with wort or porter. Of course, I want to try making the pretzels even though I can, and do, drive a few blocks for them any time I get a craving. And, the Smoked Flour Fougasse recipe, complete with instructions for smoking the flour, has me very interested. The photo of the thin, delicious-looking panini in the Italian chapter, however, is what made me bake Panini Press Bread first. 

The recipe was inspired by bread David Norman saw being used for panini in Italy. The bread used was pale, flat, and round. The loaves are underbaked just a bit so they can become crisp when pressed and grilled. The panini as described are thin with a drizzle of olive oil on the inside of the sliced bread and just a couple of slices of filling. I couldn’t wait to try them. I’d also just recently visited our brand new, artisanal, plant-based cheese shop, Rebel Cheese. I was excited to use their all-plant smoked provolone, olive mozzarella, and plant pepperoni in the panini. The bread was started the night before by making the biga which sat for 12 to 16 hours. The next day, the dough was mixed with the firm biga being added in parts so it would become incorporated more easily. The process for making the dough is not a no-knead process, but it’s a minimal-knead one. The dough was stretched and folded a few times with 15-minute rest periods in between each turn. During the first turn of stretching and folding, I added some chopped rosemary just for fun. After the last stretching and folding, it was left to ferment for 30 minutes before shaping. After dividing and resting, the dough was shaped into 12-inch rounds and left to proof. Just before sliding each loaf into the hot oven, the tops were docked for steam to escape. For oven steaming, I stick to my old method of placing a cast iron skillet on the oven floor and adding some ice just before closing the oven door with the bread in it. Once the loaves were cool, I carefully sliced them horizontally and then quartered each loaf. I used some homemade carrot top pesto to brush on the inside of each piece before adding slices of cheese and pepperoni. 

I love learning new things about making dough for bread. The stretching and folding with periods of rest was a fun process for building the dough’s structure. And, the thin loaves were perfect for crisp, tender, grilled panini. The plant-based cheeses melted surprisingly well and delivered great flavor. I can’t wait to make panini again with grilled eggplant when it’s in season. Until then, I have more bread to bake. 

Panini Press Bread
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from Bread on the Table: Recipes for Making and Enjoying Europe's Most Beloved Breads. 

Many types of bread, from sliced sandwich breads to rolls, can be put in a panini grill to make a toasted sandwich. Ciabatta, though popular for panini in the United States, is not my first choice for grilled sandwiches. With its crisp crust and floury surface, it is better for cold sandwiches. In Italy, I remember seeing stacks of ready-to-grill sandwiches on pale, flat round loaves of bread. This is my approximation of that bread. With a little bit of olive oil in the dough, it stays soft and flavorful, and underbaking them a little means they crisp up nicely in the grill press as the cheese melts inside and the other ingredients warm up. To use these for a sandwich, split the rounds in half horizontally, lightly drizzle with olive oil, and line with a single layer of prosciutto or pancetta followed by thin slices of a complementary cheese like fontina or provolone. Cover with the top half of the bread and grill in a panini press until the bread is well marked and crisp and the cheese is melted. 

all-purpose flour - 90 grams or 3/4 cup 
instant yeast - 1/2 gram or pinch 
water - 45 grams or 3 tablespoons 

Put the flour and yeast in a large bowl and blend together with your fingers to evenly distribute them. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the water. 
Using your hand, draw the flour into the water, stirring and blending with your fingers. As it begins to come together, squeeze the dough with both hands to better incorporate the water into the flour. You can use a more traditional kneading action with the heel of your hand, as well, to push down and bring the biga together. This is a stiff dough, so it will take some time and a little more effort to incorporate all the flour. Add up to 15 grams (1 tablespoon) more water if you are really having trouble. 
Because this dough will ferment a long time, you do not need to develop the gluten much; just squeeze and work the dough until it is fully combined with no lumps. 
Form the dough into a ball the best you can. Return the ball to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap, or place it in a container with a lid. 
Let the biga sit at room temperature for 12 to 16 hours. 

all-purpose flour - 210 grams or 1 2/3 cups
salt - 6 grams or 1 teaspoon 
instant yeast - 2 grams or1/2 teaspoon 
biga - all from above 
water - 135 grams or 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon 
olive oil - 12 grams or 1 tablespoon 
rice flour - for dusting 

Mixing and Kneading 
Put the flour, salt, and yeast in a large bowl and blend together with your fingers to evenly distribute them. Divide the biga into three pieces and scatter them on top of the flour. 
Make a well in the center of the flour and add the water and olive oil, holding back a small amount of the water (7 grams or 11⁄2 teaspoons) until you see if the flour needs it all. Make sure you have a plastic bowl scraper at hand, then start to blend the water and biga into the flour with your hands. As the flour begins to absorb the water and the mixture starts to thicken, plunge both hands in and squeeze the dough between your thumbs and fingers. Work from the side of the bowl closest to you across to the other side, squeezing with both hands. Rotate the bowl a quarter turn and squeeze your way through the dough again.
You will feel the dough starting to come together as a more cohesive mass, and the water and starter will become more fully incorporated. Use your bowl scraper from time to time to scrape the sticky dough from the sides of the bowl into the center. Keep rotating the bowl and squeezing the dough until everything is fully incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes. It will remain a shaggy and sticky mass. 

The dough should be medium-stiff, having some give like a rubber bouncy ball. Add the reserved water if the dough is not soft enough. Add the water a little at a time, squeezing it into the dough as you have been. You may even have to add more water to get the right consistency if it still feels too stiff. It is better to have a dough that is a little wet than one that is too dry. 
Turn out the dough onto an unfloured work surface, using the bowl scraper to get it all out of the bowl, and scraping as much off your hands as you can. Resist the urge to add flour to the work surface or the dough at this stage. Starting with the edge closest to you, grab the dough with both hands, palms down, and pull it gently toward you. Stretch it up and flip it over the top of the dough mass by 2 or 3 inches and press it into the surface. Grab the new edge closest to you and stretch it gently up and flip it over the top. Repeat this stretching and folding of the dough four or five times, working your way to the far side of the mass. The stretches should be gentle enough not to tear the dough apart. As you continue this process, the dough will hold together better and be easier to stretch. 
Scrape up the dough with a dough scraper, rotate it a quarter turn, and repeat the stretching and flipping through the dough mass four or five times, 3 to 5 minutes. With each stretch and flip through the dough, you will feel it developing, becoming more cohesive and less sticky. When most of the dough holds together and pulls off the work surface as you stretch it, slide the dough scraper under it and gather it into a ball. The dough will not be fully developed yet and will still be a little sticky. 
Cup your hands around the bottom of the far side of the ball and pull it gently toward you, allowing the dough to grip the work surface, then move your hands to the left, rotating the dough counterclockwise. Return your hands behind the dough and pull and rotate again one or two times. This will tighten the surface and help shape the dough into a smooth ball. Return the ball to the bowl with the smooth side up and let it rest for 1 minutes. 
Dust your work surface lightly with all-purpose flour and turn out the dough so that the smooth side is down. Gently press out the dough to flatten it into a round about 2 inches thick. Grab the edge closest to you and stretch it up and over the top of the dough, about two-thirds of the way to the opposite side, and press into the surface. Grab the edge opposite you and stretch and fold it toward you over the first fold, about two-thirds of the way to the closest edge, and press into the surface. 
Rotate the dough a quarter turn and repeat two more folds, one away from you and one toward you. Turn the dough over so the seam side is down. Form a ball by cupping your hands around the bottom of the far side of the dough and pulling toward you, rotating the dough counterclockwise. Repeat one or two times to form a ball. You will notice that the dough is more developed and will stretch tighter than before. Be careful not to stretch too tight; if the surface starts to tear, stop tightening. Return the ball to the bowl, smooth side up, and let rest for 15 minutes. 
Repeat this stretching and folding three times at 15-minute intervals for a total of four folds over an hour. This will develop into a smooth, elastic dough with a good gluten network. 

After the final fold, return the ball to the bowl, smooth side up, cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap, and let sit in a warm, draft-free place until the dough has doubled in volume and feels airy when gently touched, about 30 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 475ºF with the baking stone and steaming pan in place. 
Dust the work surface lightly with all-purpose flour and turn out the dough so the smooth side is down. Divide the dough into two equal pieces with a bench knife or bowl scraper. Gently press one piece of the dough to flatten it into a round about 2 inches thick. Grab the edge opposite you and stretch it up and over the top of the dough, about two-thirds of the way toward you. Gently press into the surface with the heel of your hand. Rotate the dough a quarter turn and grab the edge opposite you, stretching and folding it over the first fold, about two-thirds of the way toward you, pressing it gently. Repeat two or three times until you have a loose ball shape, then turn the ball over so the seam side is down. 
Cup your hands behind the ball with your pinkie fingers and the sides of your hands on the table, then gently pull your hands toward you. At the same time as you are gently pulling, move your hands to the left, causing the ball to rotate counterclockwise about a quarter turn. The dough should grip the table and the surface will tighten. Move your hands behind the ball again, pulling gently and rotating the ball. Set aside and cover with a tea towel, repeating with the second piece of dough. Let the dough rest for 15 to 20 minutes so the gluten relaxes a bit. 
When the pieces have rested, dust a cutting board lightly with all-purpose flour or line a baking sheet with parchment paper and dust it lightly with flour. 
Dust the work surface again with all-purpose flour. Flatten one ball on the work surface with your hand and use a rolling pin to roll into a 12-inch circle, always starting in the center and rolling outward in all directions. Bring the pin back to the center with each stroke and use plenty of all-purpose flour so the dough does not stick to the pin or work surface. Transfer the circle carefully to the floured board or parchment. Repeat with the second piece of dough. 

Cover the circles with tea towels and let rise in a warm, draft-free place, about 30 minutes. 

Dust the peel with rice flour (see page 17) and transfer one of the loaves onto the peel with the seam side down. 
Dock the surface of the dough with a roller docker if you have one or a notched rolling pin, or use the blunt end of a wooden skewer or even a chopstick to poke holes in the top to let out steam. 
Using a funnel, steam the oven with about 60 grams (1⁄4 cup) of water. 
Open the oven and place the tip of the peel on the center of the baking stone. Quickly pull the peel out from under the loaf, letting it gently drop onto the baking stone, leaving room for the second loaf if the stone is large enough; center the loaf if it is not. Close the oven door immediately. If your stone can fit two loaves at once, quickly dock the second loaf and slide it onto the stone. 
Using the funnel, add 60 grams (1⁄4 cup) more water to the steaming pan (less water than larger loaves). Close the door tightly as soon as the water hits the steaming pan. Lower the oven to 425ºF. 
After about 10 minutes, check the bread. The top should still be pale, while the bottom will just be starting to color and the crust will be set. 
Cool the bread on a wire cooling rack until completely cool.

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