Corn Salad with Red Onion and Queso Fresco

I love corn. Full stop. Corn on the cob, creamed corn — you name it, I love it. This recipe offers an exciting twist on a standard corn side dish. If you’re looking for your corn to have a little extra pizzazz, this is the recipe you’ve been looking for.

Summertime for me means fresh corn on the cob purchased from a farmer’s stand on the side of the road. A quintessential American summer, am I right? The taste of fresh, juicy corn in the summer is unbelievable, but sometimes after weeks of plain, steaming corn on the cob slathered in butter (which there is absolutely nothing wrong with), I just need something a little bit different for my corn.

I found this recipe in Alison Roman’s book, Dining In (surprise, surprise), and it’s definitely a winner. Every time we have corn now at family gatherings, my dad asks, “So, we’re having your corn, right?” So you know this recipe’s a good ‘un.

Yummy red onions with red pepper flakes!

In this recipe, the corn is combined with lime juice, red pepper flakes, cilantro, red onion and queso fresco. The lime juice gives the dish a nice sour tartness that’s balanced out by the heat coming from the red pepper flakes and the creaminess of the crumbled queso fresco (a delicious Mexican cheese).

If you don’t have fresh corn, no worries, frozen works perfectly here too! I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Corn Salad with Red Onion & Queso Fresco:

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 6 ears of corn, shucked
  • 2 TBS lime juice
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 TBS dried cilantro, or a handful of fresh
  • 4 oz. queso fresco or haloumi
  • 1/2 cup corn nuts (optional, only if you can find them, totally not necessary)

Directions:

Step 1: Place the shucked corn cobs in a large pot filled with water (enough water so that all of the corn cobs are submerged in it). Salt the water. Place the pot on the stove top and cook until the water starts to boil. Once the water boils, leave to cook for an additional 10 minutes with the lid on the pot. After 10 minutes, take off the heat and leave for another 5 minutes with the lid on.

Step 2: Drain the corn and leave to cool slightly. Once cool, take a sharp knife and cut the corn off of the corn cobs. If using frozen corn, cook the corn according to the instructions on the package either on the stove top or in the microwave in a container with a lid on it.

Step 3: In bowl, combine the lime juice, onion and red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper.

Step 4: Once the corn is cool, place the corn into the bowl with the onion mixture and stir together. Season again with salt and pepper. Add in the cilantro, queso fresco and corn nuts (if using). If you need to, add in more salt, red pepper flakes or lime juice.

Happy cooking!:)

Airy Sourdough

If you’re looking for an airy sourdough that doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to flavor, then this air sourdough recipe is for you. It’s a little trickier than the simple beginner’s sourdough recipe I posted about earlier, but definitely doable. This is for all those challenge seekers out there.

I’m always on the search for a new sourdough recipe and this particular recipe sans the rosemary and garlic, came to me by way Instagram. Weirdly enough, Instagram has opened me up to a lot of new and different recipes, food combinations, bakers and chefs. It’s something that I had not been expecting when I first joined Instagram, a little late in the game, during quarantine time.

This loaf I gleaned from James Morton’s (yes, James Morton from the Great British Baking Show. I know, I have a problem) Instagram page. I hope you like it as much as I do!

If you’re new to sourdough, this loaf has a hydration of 76%, so to make it easier to work with, you could reduce the amount of water in the dough. The resulting bread just might not be as airy as it would be if all of the water had been added.

I like to randomly add in spices to my sourdough and the last time I made this recipe, I happened to throw in some dried rosemary from my garden and some garlic. Feel free to add any spices or flavor combinations you wish or omit them all for a pared back, but still delicious sourdough flavor.

Airy Sourdough Recipe:

Makes 2 loaves

Ingredients:

  • 600g bread flour
  • 150 g rye flour
  • 150 g all-purpose flour
  • 650g water
  • 250g active starter
  • 21g salt
  • Dried rosemary and garlic powder to taste, optional

Directions:

Step 1: Combine all of the flours into a large bowl and then add in the water and active starter. Mix together with your hands or a wooden spoon. Once the mixture starts to come together, add in the salt and spices (if using). Mix again until fully combined.

Step 2: Let rise in the oven with the oven off, oven light on and the oven door cracked open. This will provide a nice warm environment for the bread to proove in. This is called the bulk rise. Leave for four hours. Every hour, remove from the oven, and stretch and fold your dough for about 1 to 1-1/2 minute each time (a total of 3 stretches and folds, don’t fold after the fourth hour). This will build up the gluten in the dough, helping you to achieve a nice, airy structure.

Step 3: After the four hour bulk rise, it’s time to shape the dough. Divide the dough in two. Then take a bench scraper and shape each piece of dough into a round ball by using a bench scraper and moving it in circular motions in between your work surface and the dough. Once you have a nice and taught surface on the top of the bread and a circular shape, rub the top of the dough gently with a coating of flour. Then tip the dough over so the floured side is making contact with the work surface. Pat the dough gently into a rectangle shape. Grab ahold of one side of the rectangle and take it halfway over to the other side of the rectangle. Then grab the other side of the rectangle and take that up and over the previous fold all the way over to the other side of the dough (making a sausage like shape). Turn the dough so the seam is running away from you and roll the dough up tightly.

Step 4: Place the dough in a banneton or bowl lined with a flour-covered linen towel with the seam side up and the floured side down. Cover the bowl with a plastic bag. Place this in the fridge for 12 hours.

Step 5: After 12 hours, place a Dutch oven in the oven and preheat it to 475ºF for 45 minutes to an hour. After 45 minutes, take the dough out of the oven and remove the Dutch oven from the oven. Place a piece of parchment paper over the bowl that the dough is in and with your hand on top of the parchment paper, invert the bowl so the dough falls gently onto the paper (and therefore, your hand). Take the lid off of the Dutch oven and place the dough into it. Make a slash down the middle with a sharp knife or razor blade.

Step 6: Put the lid back on the Dutch oven and put back in the oven for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the lid and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes, until the bread is a dark, caramelized color.

Step 7: Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Let cool completely before slicing and digging in.

Happy baking!:)

Sour Cream Pancakes

When you think about pancakes, you probably don’t automatically associate them with sour cream like you do with buttermilk. It’s a tried and true match, buttermilk and pancakes, like PB&J, but sour cream (and even yogurt) shouldn’t be left out of the world of pancakes. I do realize that sour cream and yogurt aren’t buttermilk, but I’m challenging the pancake status quo with this recipe (especially sour cream ones).

The absolute last thing that I want to do on a Sunday morning is venture out to the grocery store, so I use whatever I have in my fridge to knock-up breakfast. There are some days when I have to get really creative, but there’s no way I’m going to the store. That’s how I came across this recipe for sour cream pancakes. I was out of milk and the only thing I had that resembled milk was sour cream. Lo’ and behold, my love for sour cream pancakes was born.

Yummy pancakes pre-toppings

I like to eat these pancakes with maple syrup, chocolate chips and halvah sprinkled on top. Halvah is a Middle Eastern sweet made out of sesame paste. It’s soft, fudge-like and nutty; the perfect combination. I would highly recommend it for not only topping your pancakes with, but for topping a sundae, or for anything else that you might want to add a little sweet, nutty goodness to.

Please try this, it’s my favorite pancake topping.

Now here is what you’ve all been waiting for, the recipe (I know, you didn’t see that one coming, did ya?)

Sour Cream Pancakes

Makes enough for 3 semi-hungry people or 2 REALLY hungry people

Ingredients

  • 1 c. sour cream
  • 7 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions

Step 1: Whisk together eggs and vanilla and set this mixture aside.

Step 2: In a separate bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Then stir together the sour cream with the dry ingredients until just barely combined. Don’t mix too much, as this will make the pancakes chewy (you’ll activate the gluten in the flour). Whisk in the egg mixture until just combined.

Step 3: Heat a skillet or griddle over medium-low heat and melt some butter in the pan. Ladle the batter (the amount varies based on if you’re a big or small pancake kind of person) onto the skillet or griddle. Cook on the first side until bubbles start to form on the surface and the edges are starting to brown. Then flip the pancake onto the other side and cook for another minute. Repeat until all of the batter is gone.

Step 4: Time to eat! Serve with chocolate chips, halvah and syrup on top.

Happy cooking!:)

Croissants

People of the world, may I have your attention, please. In this corner, we have the ooberly confident (and slightly intimidating), Paul Hollywood and in this corner, we have the young, non-traditionalist baker, Ruby Tandoh. Tonight, these two baking fiends will face-off in the battle of the croissants. Who will win? No one knows. Stay tuned, folks, to find out who will come out on top.

Picture this: it’s a nice and warm summer morning, you’re sitting on your porch with a big steaming cup of coffee and there’s a freshly baked buttery and flaky croissant sitting there on the table in front of you. It couldn’t get much better than that now, could it?

In an effort to make this idyllic summer morning a reality, I went searching for the perfect croissant recipe.

When embarking on this baking excursion, I turned to two bakers who I love and look to whenever I am on a quest for recipes and inspiration, Paul Hollywood and Ruby Tandoh. Paul Hollywood’s recipes use classic flavors and techniques, while Ruby Tandoh’s are more experimental and tend to buck tradition. Both are great bakers, but have very different approaches to baking, which is why I thought it would be fun to make both of their croissant recipes and see who did it better. Thus, the battle of the croissants was born.

The first recipe I made was from Ruby’s cookbook, Crumb. I love Ruby’s recipes because they honestly always turn out, which can’t be said of all recipes (I’m looking at you, Paul). It’s as if she’s worked all of the kinks out so that way baking and cooking can become easy and effortless for normal, everyday people. That said, Paul’s recipes do work, they just take a little practice. He’s not going to just give you all of his tricks of the trade, you have to work hard to achieve the results you want from his recipes.

As I alluded to earlier, Ruby is the kind of baker who likes to make life easier and her croissant dough recipe is no exception. Her croissant dough is meant to be versatile, it’s a hybrid recipe between a croissant dough and a Danish pastry dough, so that way you can use it for other recipes like franzbrötchen (German cinnamon buns), jam pinwheels, pain au chocolat, cherry diamonds, or for where ever your heart takes you. You’ll definitely reap the most reward from your laboring pastry dough making efforts with Ruby’s croissant dough recipe.

Paul’s croissant dough, on the other hand, is meant strictly for croissants or pain au chocolat. He has yet another recipe for Danish pastries. Ruby’s penchant for versatility means that her croissants are a little less traditional than Paul’s. They are very light and soft, but not a particularly chewy croissants, and even though they’re less traditional, they taste amazing. Just between you and me here, I thought they tasted better than Paul’s more traditional croissants (but that’s just my opinion, feel free to make your own judgements here).

Another point will be awarded to Ruby due to the fact that the amount of dough her croissant recipe makes and her instructions on cutting and shaping them result in smaller and daintier croissants, rather than mammoth ones that are born out of Paul’s recipe. All in all, it was a close call, but Ruby’s recipe takes the W in the looks department.

Ruby’s recipe is the photo on the left and Paul’s recipe is the one on the right.

Another factor that really helped Ruby to clench the win was that I was able to achieve a better flake with her croissants; although, this could be attributed to the fact that my butter broke apart when making Paul’s dough (if the butter gets too cold and you’re too heavy handed with the dough, instead of the butter melding and becoming one with the dough, the butter will break apart under the dough. When this happens, the butter will leak out of the dough when baked. Not good.). If I make Paul’s recipe again and the butter doesn’t break apart like it did this time, his croissant flake might be better, who knows? But based on this go-around, Ruby’s recipe definitely produces a superior flake.

Ruby’s are picture perfect on the left and Paul’s are on the right.

I’ll let you be the judge on which is better; it all depends on whether you want a chewy croissant or not. Whichever one you choose, though, you won’t regret it one bit, and before you know it that idyllic morning I described at the beginning will become your reality. Enjoy all of those flaky layers!

I’m going to start with Ruby’s recipe since she won the showdown and Paul’s recipe will follow (I’ll put it in tomorrow).

Ruby’s Croissant Recipe:

Makes 12 croissants

Ingredients:

  • 350g bread flour
  • 150g all-purpose flour
  • 50g unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
  • 7g instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 TBS sugar
  • 150ml cool water (or if you have yeast that needs to be activated, 60ml warm water and 90ml cool water)
  • 150ml whole milk
  • 200g block of unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg, beaten with 1 TBS milk, to glaze

Directions:

Step 1: If using yeast that needs to be activated, first combine the yeast with 60ml of water and 1 tsp of your sugar (that means you’ll be left with 1 TBS and 2 tsp of sugar to use later on). Let this mixture sit for 10 minutes in order for the yeast to activate and for the mixture to look frothy/foamy. Combine the flours into a large bowl and then rub in the cubed butter using your fingertips. Add the yeast and stir to combine. Then stir in the salt and remaining sugar. Follow this by adding in the remaining water and the milk and use your hands to roughly combine everything together as one. The dough will be a dry shaggy dough and that’s exactly what it’s supposed to look like. No matter how badly you are tempted to, do NOT knead the mixture at this stage because you’ll develop the gluten in the dough. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and leave the dough to rest for 30 minutes. After it has rested, gently press the dough down if it has risen, cover the bowl again tightly with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge to chill for at least 3 hours (or as long as overnight).

Step 2: Once the dough has chilled, it’s time to get the sheet of butter ready. First you are going to want to heavily dust the block of butter (or combination of a couple of butter sticks) with flour and then place it between two sheets of parchment paper. Using a rolling pin, bash out the butter into a square thats about 25cmx25cm. Place the bashed-out square of butter back in the fridge while you get the dough ready. Take the dough out of the fridge and tip it out onto a large rectangle, about 50x30cm. Take out the butter sheet and lay it over half of the dough and then fold the other half of the dough over to completely cover the butter. Make sure to gently smooth your dough/butter parcel to press out any air bubbles. Then seal the edges by pressing down with either your finger or the length of the rolling pin. Once finish, you should have a completely sealed, dough-wrapped parcel of butter. Wrap this in plastic wrap and put it back in the fridge for 30 minutes, this time will allow the dough and the butter to reach the same(ish) temperature.

Step 3: Take the dough out of the fridge and gently roll the chilled dough out on a lightly floured surface into a large rectangle, at least twice as long as it is wide. It should be rolled out so the thickness is no greater than 1cm. The first roll is always the hardest, work slowly to avoid squeezing the butter out of the sides or forcing it through the dough. Start but gently pressing down all over the dough with your rolling pin to flatten it slightly and evenly distribute the butter. Then roll it carefully, but firmly, making sure to periodically check to see that it doesn’t stick to the work surface. Lightly dust any excess flour off of the surface of the dough and then fold a third of the rectangle over and then the other third on top. Rotate the dough 90º, so the fold lines now run across the width of the dough rather than towards you (in other words, turn it so the long end is running horizontal in front of you on your work surface). Wrap this in plastic wrap and leave it to rest in the fridge for 30 to 45 minutes. This was the first turn of the dough.

Step 4: Give the dough two more turns, rolling, folding, rotating and chilling each time. It will become increasingly difficult to roll out the dough as you go on, because you are developing the gluten in the dough as you are rolling it and folding it. After every turn, make sure to place it back in the fridge for 30 to 45 minutes.

Step 5: After the final turn has chilled, the dough is ready to be rolled and shaped. Roll out the dough into a rectangle about 70cm long and 20cm wide. It will be hard to achieve this size as it will be very thin but keep going and be patient. As you roll, gently lift the dough by one edge and flap it against the work surface to loosen it and give it a chance to breathe and relax. Continue to gently roll and re-roll it until the dough stays at 70x20cm without springing back. Be sure as to not use too much flour on the work surface as this will making it even harder to roll out the dough.

Step 6: Cut the dough into triangles that are 10-12cm at their base (width) and 20cm tall. Use a ruler! I like to use a very sharp knife or a pizza cutter to do this.

Step 7: To shape each croissant, stretch the triangle by its bottom two corners, slightly elongating its 10cm base so that it flares out. Now roll the triangle up tightly from the base to tip, stretching the tip up slightly as you do so. Now it will resemble the final croissant, all you need to do now is curve the ends around slightly to give it a crescent shape. Let the shaped croissants to prove on a large baking tray lined with parchment paper for around 1 1/2-2 hours depending on how warm your kitchen is. They’ll be ready when you poke one and it’s spongy, not springy. Cover the croissants loosely with plastic wrap while they rise and preheat the oven to 400º F.

Step 8: Once rise, brush the croissants with the egg wash and try to keep the egg away from the cut edges, only brush it on the smooth tops of the croissants. If you brush the cut edges, it’ll bind the flaky layers together. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes and leave to cool a little bit on a wire rack, but they are best eaten when still slightly warm.

Now onto Paul’s recipe!

Brioche

Sometimes you need a soft, buttery bread with a little sweetness that just melts in your mouth to help you take your mind off of all of the things you have to get done. This brioche is the bread you’ve been looking for. No joke.

I really love brioche. It’s so great because if you have a stand-mixer with a dough hook, it’s astonishingly easy to make, while still tasting like a million bucks. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. You’ve gotta trust me on this one.

For those who don’t know yet, or for those who just want to revile in the beauty that is brioche, brioche is a soft, buttery bread that has a hint of sweetness to it. It’s so soft that brioche bread almost feels like a pillow (not exaggerating). Oh, and the best part about it is that you don’t need anything fancy to eat it with, just some good, old butter and maybe a little jam. That said, it’s also great because of its versatility (which is good for those, like me, who have poor decision-making skills). Brioche can be easily made into French toast (it’s soft texture will easily soak up and retain the milk, egg, and cinnamon goodness), a fantastic grilled cheese, bread pudding, and can even be used to make croutons (who knew?!). Long story short, you really can’t go wrong with brioche.

So, I wasn’t just kidding about the whole, you need a stand-mixer to make this bread thing, you kind of do. The first time I made brioche, I didn’t have one. I just thought, “Well, it’s no big deal! I make bread all the time without a stand-mixer,” but boy, was I wrong. While it’s not impossible to make without a stand-mixer, the wet, sticky dough that’s characteristic of brioche is extremely hard to work with and handle. If you’re not used to working with a super sticky dough, it could get everywhere and become quickly overwhelming.

This is what the dough looks like after it’s 7 hours in the fridge. It’s a very soft dough because of all of the butter.

If you still have your heart set on making it without a stand-mixer, you’ll need to use a bench scraper, or if you don’t have that, a metal spatula, when kneading the dough. So, yeah, my life basically got 1000x better when I got a stand-mixer.

Now onto the exciting bit, the actual making of the brioche! Whenever I use this recipe (another one from Paul Hollywood’s How to Bake), I always cut it in half because otherwise, it makes a HUGE loaf. A huge loaf is great for if you’re having people over for dinner or something, but if you’re just making this for yourself, cutting the recipe in half is perfect.

There’s only one problem when it comes to cutting this recipe in half and that is the fact that the whole recipe calls for 5 eggs. This means that if you want to cut it in half, you’ll need 2 and 1/2 eggs (yay, math!). Hmmm. How do you do half an egg? Whenever I run into problems like this with cutting recipes in half, I break out my handy-dandy digital kitchen scale. I crack an egg into a bowl on the scale, beat it, and see how much it weighs. Then I just take out half of the egg’s weight and use that for the brioche. (You can save the other half to make some scrambled eggs, or some French toast with your soon-to-be, freshly-made brioche. There’s a thought!)

That’s the only funky part that comes up when cutting this brioche recipe in half, but I do have one last note on making this. Because brioche has a fair amount of sugar in it, this means that it will brown quicker than most breads. Don’t let it fool you into thinking that the brioche is done before it actually is. You have to outsmart the bread!

Does this proved dough look like a flour to you, or is it just me?

After your bread has been in the oven for about 16-17 minutes, it’ll start to have a very deep dark brown color (anymore brown and it’ll be considered burnt). It’s at this point that you’ll want to take your bread out of the oven, put a piece of aluminum foil over the top (to prevent the top from browning anymore) and pop it back into the oven for the remaining baking time (3-13 minutes).

And that’s all she wrote. See? Like I said, this bread is no biggie!

Here’s the recipe to make one large loaf of brioche:

Makes one, very large loaf | Total Time: 11-12 hours

Ingredients:

  • 500 grams bread flour
  • 7 grams salt
  • 50 grams sugar
  • 10 grams dry, active yeast
  • 40ml warm water
  • 100ml warm milk
  • 5 eggs
  • 250 grams unsalted butter, softened

Directions:

Step 1: Mix 1 tsp of the sugar into a bowl with the yeast and warm water. Let this sit for about 10 minutes allow the yeast to activate. When ready, the mixture will be foamy on top.*

Step 2: In the bowl of a stand-mixer, pour in the flour. Then place the salt and remaining sugar into one side of the bowl and the yeast mixture into the other side. Add in the eggs and warm milk and then with a dough hook attached to the mixer, mix on low speed for about 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, bump up the speed to medium and continue mixing for another 6-8 minutes.  By the end of this, you should have a soft, elastic dough. Add the softened butter and mix for another 4-5 minutes on medium speed. You will want to scrape down the bowl, every once in a while, to make sure the butter is thoroughly incorporated into the dough. After this, the dough will be very soft.

Step 3: Place the dough into a plastic bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge to chill for at least 7 hours, or overnight.

Step 4: Grease a deep cake tin (I like to use a large spring-form pan) and place a circle of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan to help you get the bread out after baking.

Step 5: Take your dough out of the fridge and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. To knock out any air in the dough, fold it in on itself a couple of times, and then cut the dough into 9 pieces. Shape each piece into a smooth ball by placing it on the work surface and making a cage with your hand around the top of it with the tips of your fingers making contact with the work surface. Then move your hand in circular motion, rotating the ball of dough rapidly, and this should create a smooth ball. Place 8 balls of dough around the outside of the pan and the ninth ball in the middle.

Step 6: Place the pan into a clean bag and leave to prove for 2-3 hours, or until the dough has risen to just above the rim of the pan.

Step 7: Preheat your oven to 375º F. Once the oven is fully preheated and the bread proved, bake for 20-30 minutes. Due to the sugar in the bread, it will brown quicker than most breads. If the bread takes on a very deep brown color before the baking time is over, place a piece of aluminum foil over the top to prevent further browning. Once fully baked, remove the bread from the pan and cool on a wire rack before digging in.

*If your yeast doesn’t need to be activated, omit this step and the 40ml of warm water. Add 40ml more of warm milk in place of the warm water.

Happy baking!:)

Eight-Strand Plaited Bread

Okay, so you never learned how to braid hair. No biggie. This recipes give you step-by-step instructions, so you can make a gorgeous eight-strand plaited bread that looks like it’s straight out of a bakery window. Your friends won’t be able to believe that it’s homemade.

I’ve always loved the look of a nicely plaited loaf of bread, don’t you? Whether it be a plaited loaf of challah or plain white bread, something about the little extra effort put in by simply braiding a loaf gets me. A plaited bread seems to give off an impressive air that says, “Hey! Look at me, I was made by a well-seasoned, experienced baker!” All it really boils down to this, a plaited loaf just looks more interesting than your run-of-the-mill, everyday circular loaf. Simple as that.

I’m not trying to bash a circular loaf here (trust me, I’m all for a nice round, crusty loaf of sourdough or white bread), but for special occasions or when I just need to spice up my life a little bit, a plaited loaf like this is perfect and doesn’t take a whole lot of skill or experience. Just follow these step-by-step instructions and you’ll be able to make your loaf standout from the crowd.

I was a little intimidated at first to try this eight-strand plaited bread recipe that I found in Paul Hollywood’s cookbook, How to Bake, but I just followed his instructs to a T, and everything turned out just fine! I ended up with a (pretty) straight and intricately weaved loaf of bread that I was excited to show off.

This plait can be done with any type of bread (I switch between just a plain, old white bread recipe and a garlic and rosemary challah bread recipe). No matter the type of bread you’re making (just not a wet, sticky dough, like sourdough), follow these steps and you’ll have success!

Eight-Strand Plait:

Once your dough has risen, knock it back and divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Then roll each piece into a 16 in (40 cm) log/sausage. Lay the rolled-out pieces onto a lightly floured surface with the top ends gathered together. Tack the gathered ends to the work surface to hold them in place as you work/braid. With the strands of dough are laid out in front of you, number them 1-8. Number 1 will be the strand farthest to the left as you look at the strands and number 8 will be the strand farthest to the right. Every time you move a strand, the numbers will still be 1-8 in front of you (the number is referring to the position, not to the specific strand).

First, take 8 under 7 and over 1. This step you only do once at the start.

Then repeat the following steps until the plait is finished:

  • Take 8 over 5
  • Take 2 under 3 over 8
  • Take 1 over 4
  • Take 7 under 6

Be sure to keep the plait as even and straight as possible so that the strands are roughly the same length. When you’ve reached the end of the plait, use a bench scraper, or your hands, and chop the dough on each end to give you nice, sharp ends. Once you do this, tidy up the ends as needed. Then place the loaf on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and put into a plastic bag. Leave to prove for about 1 hour (until the dough has doubled in size) for white bread (this proving time will vary if making challah bread). (The featured image is a picture of what the white bread recipe looks like once baked.)

Not a very straight plait, but this is an eight-strand plaited loaf of garlic and rosemary challah bread

And that’s it! Easy, right? Now, you might need to give it a couple of tries at braiding the first time before it looks right, but you’ll get there!

Below is the recipe for eight-strand plaited white bread:

Makes 1 loaf | Total Time: About 4 hours

Ingredients:

  • 600 grams bread flour
  • 12 grams active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 12 grams salt
  • 35 grams unsalted butter, softened
  • 400 ml water
  • Olive oil for kneading

Directions:

Step 1: Mix together the yeast, sugar and 75 ml of warm water into a small bowl. Let this sit for around 10 minutes in order for the yeast to activate. After 10 minutes, the mixture should be foamy on top. Then in a large mixing bowl, pour in the flour and add the yeast mixture on top. Use your hands to mix this together and then add in the salt, butter and ¾ of the remaining 325 ml of cool water. Mix this together with your hands. Add in the remaining water, a little at a time, until all of the flour has been picked up from the sides of the bowl. You might not have to add all of the water, or alternatively, you might have to add more water. You want the dough to be soft, but not soggy. Form the mixture into a rough dough.

Step 2: Coat a clean work surface with a little bit of olive oil and then tip out the dough, kneading it for 5-10 minutes. At first, there will be a wet stage, but if you keep kneading, eventually, the dough will start to form a soft, smooth skin. At this point, put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl (large). Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise for about 1 hour (leaving it for 2 or 3 hours is fine too) or until at least doubled in size.

Step 3: Once the dough has risen, scrape it out of the bowl onto a lightly floured work surface. Knock all of the air out and divide it into 8 equal pieces. Then roll each piece into a 16 in (40 cm) log/sausage. Lay the rolled-out pieces onto a lightly floured surface with the top ends gathered together. Tack the gathered ends to the work surface to hold them in place as you work/braid. Step 4: As the strands of dough are laid out in front of you, number the strands 1-8. Number 1 will be the strand farthest to the left as you look at the strands and number 8 will be the strand farthest to the right. Every time you move a strand, the numbers will still be 1-8 in front of you (the number is referring to the position, not to the specific strand).

Step 5: First, take 8 under 7 and over 1. This step you only do once at the start.

Step 6: Then repeat the following steps until the plait is finished: Take 8 over 5, take 2 under 3 over 8, take 1 over 4, and take 7 under 6.

Step 7: Once you’ve reached the end of the plait, use a bench scraper or your hands and chop the dough on each end to give you nice, sharp ends. Once you do this, tidy up the ends as needed. Place the loaf on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and put into a plastic bag, leaving it to prove for about 1 hour (until the dough has doubled in size).

Step 8: While waiting for the bread to prove for the last time, preheat the oven to 450º F and place a roasting tin on the bottom rack inside the oven. After the dough has risen and the oven has fully preheated, fill the hot roasting pan with hot water (in order to create the stream needed for a good crust). Then take the bread out of the plastic bag and quickly put the bread into the oven. Bake for 30 minutes or until it is fully cooked and hollow sounding when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack before slicing.

Happy baking!:)

Leek, Mushroom & Cheese Tart

Lately, it’s been raining with no sign of a reprieve coming anytime soon–day after day of rain. And if you’re anything like me, weather like this makes you crave a warm and comforting dinner that’s sure to raise your spirits. This cheese, leek and mushroom tart with a bread crust does just that–so well so, that you’ll even want to whip it up when it’s nice and sunny outside!

I’ll be the first to admit it, I was a little late to party on the leek front. I didn’t eat one until last summer, and I’m kind of mad at myself that I waited that long, because ever since trying them, I’ve been obsessed. Since leeks are of the same genus as onions, garlics, shallots, scallions and chives (the genus Allium), when cooked, they take on a mild onion taste and smell, and become meltingly tender (honesty, they’re just so good). It’s this mild onion flavor and creamy, soft texture once cooked that make leeks the perfect vegetable to pair with some cream, cheese, garlic, mushrooms and pepper, if you want to create a delicious, savory tart.

Just look at these handsome leeks! These are best looking leeks I’ve ever cooked with.

I found the base for this recipe in Ruby Tandoh’s cookbook, Crumb, which is absolutely scrumptious! After making it a couple of times, though, I decided I wanted to make this recipe my own by making a couple of changes. First of all, this recipe calls for crème fraîche, which is expensive. Now, someone out there in the cooking and baking world is going to be offended by this, but essentially, crème fraîche is just a less sour and more fatty version of sour cream. Knowing this, I just substitute the called for crème fraîche for less expensive, sour cream. To compensate for the fact that sour cream has a more sour taste and less fat, I add more seasoning and cook the tart for about 10 minutes longer than I would if using the crème fraîche.

Another thing I do differently is add in some mushrooms to give the tart another level of exciting flavor and texture (I would try making this pie both ways, with just leeks and then with the mushrooms added in, because I honestly love both versions). Since the leeks need longer to cook than the mushrooms, I throw the mushrooms into the pot of leeks when the leeks have 10 minutes of cooking time left.

Finally, I like to add a little bit more seasoning to my tart. Maybe I overdo it on the spices, but I’m more of a, “let’s punch someone in the face with this flavor,” rather than a subtle flavor type of person. So, I add a ton of pepper (the gruyere cheese is very rich, so the pepper works to cut through all that richness), some salt, garlic powder, Cajun seasoning, nutmeg, and you guessed it, chili powder. I just think that these spices really work to enhance the flavor of the leeks. If you don’t like spicy food though, I’d say just leave out the Cajun seasoning and chili powder, but keep the pepper, salt and garlic powder (although you can honestly do whatever you want to do; it’s your tart).

Now that I’ve gone through all the changes I make when cooking this tart, there is one sacred piece to this tart puzzle that can never be changed, and that’s the bread crust. This is not your traditional crust; it’s soft, chewy, buttery and everything you never knew you needed in a crust. I was speechless the first time I tasted it; this crust tastes that good. When you pop the tart in the oven, the crust will experience one final rise, causing the tart to take on a beautifully round dome-like look on the top. In addition, the edges of the crust will become crispy and crunchy, working to counteract all of the soft textures going on inside of the tart. Real talk here, I just can’t imagine a crust being any better than this one.

This crust is the crust of my dreams…

Due to it’s bread-like nature, this crust is going to need to rise for an initial 1 and 1/2 hours, and then once it’s rolled out and placed in a pie or tart pan, it’ll need an additional 30 minutes of rest in order for the dough to have time to puff up again. After it’s final rest, the filling can be added. You’ll notice that this recipe also calls for bread flour. Now, normally I would say you can just substitute all-purpose flour, but if you want a really chewy and mind-blowing crust, I would use the recommended bread flour. The extra gluten in bread flour allows the crust to become chewier than if all-purpose flour is used (but do what you’ve gotta do, man).

If that’s not beauty, then I don’t know what is.

And that’s it! Just let the tart sit for a couple of minutes after it comes out of the oven before diving in!

Here’s the recipe:

Leek, Mushroom & Cheese Tart

Servings: 6 | Total Time: about 3 hours

Ingredients:

FOR THE CRUST:

  • 250 grams bread flour
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 110 ml warm water
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 50 grams unsalted butter, softened

FOR THE FILLING:

  • 50 grams unsalted butter
  • 400-500 grams leeks, washed, trimmed & sliced
  • 6 whole, white mushrooms (or your choice), sliced into chunks
  • 300 ml sour cream or crème fraiche
  • 150 grams gruyere cheese, grated
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • Nutmeg, salt, pepper, Cajun seasoning and chili powder, to taste
  • 1 egg, beaten, to glaze (optional)

1 LARGE pie or tart pan

Directions:

Step 1: Activate the yeast by mixing the yeast and sugar in the warm water. Let this mixture sit for about 10 minutes, until the mixture becomes foamy on top. In a large bowl, mix this yeast mixture together with the flour. Then add in the salt and egg, using your hands to roughly combine the mixture. Knead this for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is stronger and elastic. Then knead in the soft butter until it is fully incorporated into the dough. Let the dough rise in a large, covered bowl at room temperature for 1 ½ hours, until doubled in size.

Step 2: While waiting for the dough to rise, melt the butter in a large pot and then stir in the leeks. Cover the pan with a lid and cook the leeks on low to medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 15 minutes, add in the mushroom, cover again, and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes, until the leeks are meltingly tender. Once you reach this stage, set the mixture aside to cool.

Step 3: Once the dough has doubled in size, tip it onto a clean, lightly floured work surface. Roll the dough into a large circle that is big enough to line the bottom and sides of your pie or tart pan. Line the pan, making sure to both press the dough into the corners and push a little around the sides so that the dough hands over the top of the pan a little. I like to fold this overhand under the rim of the pan and tack it down to make sure that the dough won’t slide down the inside of the pan during its proving time. Let the dough prove in the pan for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400º F.

Step 4: While the dough proves again, use this time to finish up the filling. In a large bowl, stir together the sour cream, eggs, nutmeg, salt, pepper, Cajun seasoning, chili powder, and cheese. Then add in the cooled leek, mushroom and butter mixture. Make sure to go heavy on the pepper in order to cut through the filling’s richness. After the dough’s proving time is up, spoon in the filling.

Step 5: If using the beaten egg to glaze, at this point, brush it onto the rim of the dough. Bake the tart for 40-50 minutes. When fully cooked, the tart should be golden brown on top and the crust should look well risen. Wait a couple of minutes after taking it out of the oven before cutting into it.

Happy baking / cooking!:)

Sour Cream Flatbread with Roasted Veggies

Need some good, old-fashioned carbs back in your diet? Are you craving some Indian naan bread, but are too lazy to leave the house? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this fluffy, buttery sour cream flatbread recipe is for you.

If the thought of an Indian naan-like flatbread topped with some oil roasted mushrooms, green onions, red onion, garlic, a smattering of ricotta cheese, and a dash of chili powder speaks to your soul (or stomach) right now, boy, have I got a recipe for you. I don’t want to sound too cocky, but I can assure you, this sour cream flatbread is just the carb-fix you’ve been needing. It’s fluffy, soft and buttery, all at the same time, reminding me of a nice, thick piece of naan that you get at an Indian restaurant. I found this fantastic recipe in one of my adventures into the depths of Alison Roman’s cookbook, Dining In, and made just a couple of tweaks (obviously, some chili powder and Cajun seasoning were added).

As mouthwatering and delicious as it is, the bread isn’t the only star of the show with this recipe. The flatbread topping–mushrooms, red onion, garlic and green onions (or whatever vegetables you want to throw in there), all roasted in a luxurious bath of olive oil–makes this dish absolutely perfect. Roasting the vegetables in a pool of oil works to bring out their different individual flavor profiles better than if you were to just roast the vegetables with a light drizzling of oil over the top of them. Once you start roasting your veggies this way, I promise you, you won’t got back. (Welcome to the dark side.)

You don’t have to top the flatbread with roasted veggies, ricotta and chili powder; it’s just a suggestion (a very strong one). You can also make this flatbread to soak up any leftover curry on your plate, or as a vehicle to transport beautifully silky, creamy hummus or tangy tzatziki dip from the container to your mouth. Whatever way you chose to do it, you can’t go wrong.

This recipe calls for a total of four hours resting period for the dough. Please abide by this request. I’m lenient on the topping, but for this, I’m a stickler. If you want your bread to be unbelievably soft and fluffy, it needs these four hours to relax the gluten. Oh, and don’t forget to punch it down after the first two hours!

When there’s one hour left on the dough’s rising time, I would recommend getting the vegetables ready. For the mushrooms, just slice them into thin chunks, the green onions, slice each one in half lengthwise, the red onion, cut it into thin slices and the garlic, just peel and throw them in halved. Honestly, how you cut the vegetables is entirely up to you and your own preference, this is just how I like to do it. Anyway, once all of the vegetable have been cut, arrange them in a baking dish and pour 3/4 cup of olive oil over top. Generously season them with salt and pepper (I add a little cajun and chili powder too, because I like things a little spicy) and then just pop the dish into the oven for around 30 minutes.

Those veggies are just asking to be photographed.

Once your four hours of bread proving are up, it’s time to bake your flatbread. You can choose to bake the bread in the oven, or in a skillet (you can also use a griddle or cast-iron skillet) on the stove top; these different baking methods will yield different results. Baking the bread in the oven, will make the bread a little dryer and pizza dough-like; whereas, if you bake/cook the bread on the stove top, your bread will be softer, fluffier and more reminiscent of naan bread. I’ve tried both ways and personally, cooking it on the stove top is way better.

When cooking your flatbread, no matter the method of baking, you’re going to need to work in batches, and depending on how big you want them to be, you can have anywhere from 8 to 10 flatbreads (I think I made about 8). When shaping the bread, don’t use a rolling pin! You’re going to want to use your hands and gravity to stretch the dough (like when making pizza crust). With this dough, you want it to be really thin so that way it’ll cooked all the way through; just be sure that you’re not making it so thin that you’re creating a bunch of holes in the dough.

If you choose the stove top method, make sure that you add more oil to the skillet/griddle as needed (and you will need to add more each time you cook a flatbread). The oil helps to color the bread, adding the spots of dark brown that you want on your flatbread. Don’t forget to flip the bread after about 3 minutes and then let it cook on the other side for another 2 to 3 minutes. Most of the time, each bread will take about 5 minutes each (it all depends on the heat of your skillet). Sometimes though, a piece could take up to 8 minutes to gain the dark brown color you want, but I wouldn’t leave it on the skillet for more than that, or else the bread will start to dry out. If your bread needs longer than 8 minutes, I’d turn up the heat and add a little more oil (if the skillet looks dry).

The dark brown spots are what you want. Honestly, you want them even darker than this. Little burnt spots are preferable here!

If you decide that a pizza crust-like flatbread is the one for you, choosing to cook it in the oven, be sure to give the bottom of your cookie sheet a healthy dose of olive oil before placing the dough on top. You’re also going to want to drizzle the top with olive oil, too, before putting it in the oven. They’ll need about 8 to 10 minutes in there.

A nice tall stack of flatbreads.

After you’ve successfully cooked all of your flatbreads, it’s assembly time! I like to top my flatbread with a layer of ricotta, followed by a layer of the roasted vegetables, and then sprinkled with a little more salt and some chili powder. You can tear off bits, or just pick it up and eat it like a piece of pizza. It’s entirely up to you–it’ll be delicious no matter how you do it!

I know this is the featured image for this post already, but it just looks so good that I wanted to put the picture in again.

Here is the recipe:

Sour Cream Flatbread with Roasted Veggies

Makes about 8-10 flatbreads | Total time: 5 hours

Ingredients

FOR THE ROASTED VEGGIES:

  • 1 package mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 green onions, sliced in half lengthwise
  • ½ red onion, sliced thinly
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • Salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme, to taste

FOR THE FLATBREAD:

  • 1 package active dry yeast (2 ¼ tsp)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 ½ cups warm water
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 2 TBS unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 TBS salt
  • Olive oil for cooking / baking

FOR EATING:

Ricotta cheese

Salt and chili powder, to taste

Directions

For the roasted veggies:

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 400º F. Place the mushrooms, green onions, red onion and garlic into a baking dish. Cover the veggies with the olive oil and season with the salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme, to taste.

Step 2: Place the dish into the oven to roast for 35-45 minutes, or until the mushrooms are caramelized and dark brown in color.

For the flatbread:

Step 1: In a large bowl, pour in the water. Then mix in the yeast and sugar. Leave the bowl alone to let the yeast activate, about 10 minutes, the should mixture become foamy on top. Once the yeast has activated, stir in the flour until there are no more dry stops. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for about 10 minutes. This time will allow the flour to hydrate.

Step 2: After 10 minutes, add in the sour cream, melted butter, and salt to the dough. Mix this, with your hands, until all of the sour cream is combined (this does not mean kneading the dough).

Step 3: Cover the bowl again and let it sit for 2 hours. After 2 hours, punch down the dough and cover it again, letting it rest for another 2 hours.

Step 4: When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and divide the dough into 8-10 pieces.

Step 5: Working with one piece at a time, use your hands to stretch out the dough. Gravity is your friend here; stretch it like you would when making a pizza crust. Make sure you get the dough very, very thin, but don’t create too many holes.

Cooking on the stovetop:

Step 1: Heat a large skillet/griddle/cast-iron, on medium-high heat. Drizzle a little bit of olive oil into the skillet and lay a piece of dough onto it. Let this cook until the dough starts to puff up and bubble up in places. After about 3 minutes, flip the dough to the other side. Make sure that there are dark brown (lightly charred) spots on the side you just flipped up. If there aren’t any of these spots, this means you need to turn up the heat a little.

Step 2: Repeat the previous step with the remaining dough, adding oil when you need to.

Cooking in the oven:

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 500º F. Drizzle a cookie sheet with a good amount of olive oil and place 2-3 pieces of dough on it. Then drizzle the tops of the dough with more olive oil. Bake the flatbreads for about 8-10 minutes; until they are puffed up, crispy and golden brown.

Step 2: Repeat the previous step with the remaining dough.

Top the cooked flatbread with ricotta, the roasted veggies, some salt and chili powder.

Happy cooking!:)

Super Simple Sourdough

What do you do when there’s no yeast in sight at the grocery store? Panic? Nope. Just make yourself a sourdough dough starter and you’ll never have to rely solely on being able to find that pesky yeast packet at the grocery store ever again (well maybe not ever again, but you know what I mean).

There have been some false rumors going around about sourdough for a while now, and it’s time to set the record straight. Some seem to think that making sourdough is only for the crème de la crème of artisan bakers, no baking novice could possibly be able to wrangle such a difficult bread, but these ill-informed people couldn’t be more wrong.

All you need to create a loaf of delicious, crusty and tangy sourdough is time (and lots of it). The tangy trademark flavor of sourdough can only be achieved through a long proving (rising) period. It sounds crazy, but the whole process of baking a sourdough bread can take upwards of 7 days (thankfully this recipe only takes about 20 hours in total).

Did you know that the earliest written record of sourdough comes in the form of hieroglyphics of Egyptians making beer and bread that date back to 4,000 B.C.? For thousands of years, using a sourdough starter was pretty much the only way to make a loaf of bread. So, if up until 1942 (the year the first active dry yeast–the kind you know of that comes in a packet at the grocery store–was created) everyone made their bread by using a sourdough starter, then there is no reason why you can’t make bread that way too.

The first step to making any kind of sourdough is to make a sourdough starter. This starter is simply the combination of just two ingredients, flour and water. This flour and water mixture will eventually go through the process of fermentation, causing bacteria and wild yeast to grow. When the fermentation process begins in earnest, it will cause bubble to appear in your flour and water mixture. This bubbling mixture means that the sourdough starter is alive.

During fermentation, the bacteria that is created generates lactic acid and the wild yeast feeds off starches and flour, pumping the resulting carbon dioxide and acid and alcohol (ethanol) into the dough. This acid and alcohol (ethanol) is what gives sourdough its sour taste. That is why the tangy flavor of sourdough grows stronger the longer you proof your dough for; it simply has more time to give off even more ethanol (sorry for the science lesson, I’m done know).

On day one of making your starter, combine 60 grams of whole wheat flour and 60 grams of water in a glass jar. Mix the water and flour together with a fork and then cover the jar loosely with a cloth (I like to use a piece of cheese cloth) or with the jar’s lid just set on top (not twisted on). Leave this in a warm spot for 24 hours.

On day two, there might be some small bubbles that have popped up on the surface of your starter. These bubbles mean that fermentation has started (yay!). Sometimes, you won’t see any bubbles just yet and that’s totally fine! Don’t do anything to the starter today, just let it sit for another 24 hours.

It’s day three. You’re starting to get antsy, aren’t you? Hold tight, you still have a couple more days before you can actually use your starter. But at least today you get to feed your starter again. To do this, first take out and discard about half of your starter from the jar. Then add 60 grams of all-purpose flour and 60 grams of water. Mix the starter with a fork until smooth. Cover the starter again and let it rest for another 24 hours (huh. Sounds like my life: wake up, eat, sleep, repeat).

Okay, now it’s going to feel like Groundhog Day for a bit. On days 4, 5, and 6, you’re just going to repeat day three’s feeding process (take out and discard half of your starter and then feed it with 60 grams of flour and 60 grams of water). The starter will start to rise and bubbles will pop up on the surface and throughout the starter as the yeast begins to develop. Here’s a little nugget of information, when the starter falls, this means that it’s time to feed it again.

On day seven, you’re probably ready to just say, “Forget it. It was a nice idea, but I’m bored now.” But guess what? If your stater looks like it’s doubled in size and there are tons of bubbles in it, then it’s officially alive! Congrats! You’ve officially given birth to a gen-u-ine sourdough starter (if you didn’t instinctively say ‘genuine’ in a slow southern drawl in your head when you saw the hyphens, then I don’t think we can be friends)!

This is my bubbly starter, Olga.

If your started hasn’t doubled in size and there aren’t a lot of bubbles yet by day seven, don’t freak out. This just means that your starter needs a little more time to mature. Keep feeding it once a day and soon it will reach this stage.

One last thing, make sure you keep your jar clean (wipe the sides off every now and then) and before you use the starter in a recipe, make sure it passes the float test. To check to see if your starter passes the float test, after the starter has been fed and it has doubled in size, drop a teaspoon of starter into a glass or bowl of water. If the starter floats to the top it’s ready to use, if it sinks to the bottom, the starter needs more time before it can be used.

Okay, I lied. One more thing, if you keep your starter at room temperature, make sure you are feeding it everyday. If you are keeping it in the fridge, make sure you bring it out, remove and discard all but 50 grams of the starter and feed it, once a week.

Now, on to the moment that we’ve all been waiting for; making the actual sourdough bread. I’ve tried out a lot of sourdough recipes and by far, this is my favorite base sourdough recipe. It comes from the book, How to Bake, by Paul Hollywood (he’s a butt, but you have to admit, he does know a thing or two about bread). I always just cut this recipe in half because I only ever need to make one loaf (but if any of you ever want me to make you a loaf too while I’m making my own loaf, just let me know). Again, this recipe is in grams and millilitres, so please, please buy yourself a digital kitchen scale.

You can’t go wrong with a simple, plain sourdough bread, but sometimes I like to spice it up a little. I like to add about two or three teaspoons of pre-minced garlic (from a jar) and a tablespoon or two of rosemary (just the dried kind from a spice jar), for a garlic and rosemary loaf. One time, I even substituted the water for tomato juice in the recipe and added some garlic too. I ended up with a tasty tomato and garlic loaf that I have to say was pretty darn good. Sometimes, if I’m not feeling lazy, it’s really good to roast a whole clove of garlic and then put that in the garlic and rosemary loaf instead of the jarred garlic (just an idea for you to play around with). But honestly, you can add whatever your little heart desires to this basic sourdough recipe and it should taste fantastic!

You can add more water to this if you’re more experienced in sourdough making (a dough with higher hydration will give you a crumb structure that is more open and airy, but will also result in a dough that is harder to work with), but sticking to the lower water option produces a load that is just as nice.

If you don’t have a fancy banneton (proofing basket) for your second proof, you can just do what I do and modify a large mixing bowl. To do this, I place a heavily floured cloth/towel (the towel should be damp and then floured. Rice flour works best to coat the towel in as it has a grainier texture than normal flour. This more granular texture helps to avoid the loaf from sticking to the towel when it’s time to turn it out onto the baking sheet) in the bowl so that the towel isn’t touching the bottom of the bowl, and then put a rubber band around the bowl to hold the towel in place. This will enable the dough to sit in the towel suspended above the bottom of the bowl. Suspending the dough in this way will cause the dough to better hold its shape when it’s time to bake the bread (kind of like muscle memory).

My sourdough resting in the homemade banneton that I made.

Another point, some people like to bake their sourdough in a dutch oven because it is the closest you can get to mimicking a fancy steam-injecting oven without actually having one. To do this, put the dutch oven in the oven with the lid on while the oven preheats to 450 degrees F. Once the oven has reached this temperature, take out the dutch oven, add the bread, put the lid back on, throw it in the oven, and turn the oven temperature down to 400 F. After 20 minutes, take off the lid and bake for another 30ish minutes. While I love the great crust that you get from using a dutch oven, then bottom of the bread always burns when I cook my bread in one. To prevent this, you could place a cookie sheet on the oven rack beneath the dutch oven and it should do the trick.

You could also skip the dutch oven all together, instead, cooking your bread on a cookie sheet. If you choose this route, I would recommend that you place a roasting pan on the bottom oven rack when you preheat your oven. Then, when you put your bread in the oven, carefully pour about 1 and 1/2 cups of boiling water into the roasting pan below the bread and shut the oven door (do this all very quickly as you don’t want the steam you’ve just created to escape). This process, just like cooking your bread in a dutch oven, will help to create the moisture needed to develop that nice, thick crust that you want for your sourdough.

And that’s literally all I have for you about sourdough. The only really tricky part about baking sourdough is not to rush the process. Sourdough bread takes time; it’s part of its beauty.

Okay, I just have to slip in this one last fun fact about sourdough before I leave you. Did you know that there’s actually a sourdough library in St. Vith, a village in Belgium, that preserves strains of sourdough for the future? I know. Crazy, right? Here’s a NYTimes article about it: At the Sourdough Library, With Some Very Old Mothers.

Here is the super simple sourdough recipe:

Makes 1 loaf | Total time: about 17-20 hours

Ingredients:

  • 375 grams white bread flour
  • 250 grams sourdough starter
  • 8 grams of salt
  • 175 – 225ml lukewarm water
  • Olive oil for kneading
  • 2-3 tsp garlic from a jar (optional)
  • 1 – 2 TBS dried rosemary (optional)

Directions:

Step 1: In a large bowl, put in the flour, starter and salt. Then add in 175ml of the water and mix together with your hands (adding more water if you need to). Mix until it has become a soft, rough dough and all of the flour has been picked up from the sides of the bowl.

Step 2: Coat a clean worksurface with a little bit of olive oil and then tip the dough onto it. Knead the dough for 5 – 10 minutes. There will be an initial wet stage but keep working the dough and eventually the dough will form a soft, smooth skin. At this stage, if you want, gently knead in the garlic and rosemary.

Step 3: After kneading into a soft, smooth skinned dough, place it into a lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Leave the dough to rise for 5 hours, or until it has doubled in size.

Step 4: Cover a damp towel with a heavy coating of rice flour (preferably) or regular flour. Then place the towel into a clean, deep bowl with the ends of the towel draping over the sides of the bowl. Make sure the center of the towel (in the center of the bowl) isn’t touching the bottom of the bowl, this way, when the dough is dropped onto the towel in the bowl, it will be suspended in the air, which will help it to hold its shape when baking later on. Then put a rubber band around the bowl and towel, securing the towel in place. This is a homemade bread banneton. If you have a bread banneton, just use this, heavily floured.

 Step 5: Tip the risen dough onto a lightly floured work surface and fold it inwards repeatedly until the dough is smooth and all of the air has been knocked out. Turn the dough in a circular motion on the work surface to form the dough into a smooth ball shape.

Step 6: Place the dough ball into the banneton and dust with more flour on top. Put the banneton with the dough into a plastic bag (I use a large oven bag) and leave to rise for 10 – 13 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size and springs back when poked lightly with your finger.

Step 7: When the dough is ready, put a roasting pan in the oven on the bottom rack and preheat your oven to 400º F. Line a cookie sheet with baking parchment and bring 1 and ½ cups of water to a boil.

Step 8: Turn the risen dough upside down so the wrinkled underside is on top. Put the loaf onto the cookie sheet and cut a deep slash across the middle of the loaf.

Step 9: Place the loaf into the oven. Then pour the boiling water into the roasting pan on the lowest oven rack, beneath the loaf, and shut the oven door. This will create the steam in the oven needed to achieve a heavy crusted bread (do this step as quickly as possible as to not let out too much steam from the oven).  Bake for 30 – 40 minutes until the loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool completely on a wire rack before digging in.

**You can also bake the bread in a dutch oven. When you start preheating your oven, place your dutch oven into the oven with the lid on. After 30 – 45 minutes (assuming the oven has heated up all the way), take out the dutch oven, line it with parchment paper and place the loaf inside. Then put the lid back on the dutch oven and put it back in the oven. Place a cookie sheet into the oven, as well, on the lowest oven rack (this will prevent the bottom of the bread from burning in the dutch oven). Bake for 20 minutes with the lid on and then take off the lid and bake for an additional 10 – 20 minutes, until the loaf is golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped on the bottom.

Happy baking!:)

Heavenly Everything Bagels

I don’t know about you, but just the thought of a warm, salty and garlicky everything bagel makes my stomach grumble. Add some cream cheese and lox and I’m salivating like a dog. These bagels, hand over heart, are what dreams are made of.

One of my favorite parts about visiting New York City is the fact that a good bagel place is always just a stone’s throw away from you no matter where you’re at. And the absolute best lox sandwich on an everything bagel, hands down, is at Ess-a-Bagel,I swear. I know I said earlier that I’m a vegetarian, but I guess I have a problem with authority because no one (and I mean NO ONE) can tell me that I can’t have a bagel with lox, no matter who you are. The soft and salty lox mixed with cream cheese and a chewy, garlicky and salty everything bagel is just not something that I’m okay with forgoing.

That said, about a week ago the cravings for an everything bagel with lox and cream cheese began in earnest. And the other day, I just couldn’t fend them off any longer, so I found a bagel recipe in my cookbook, Crumb, by Ruby Tandoh (Yes, Ruby from one of the earlier seasons of the Great British Baking Show. I’m kind of obsessed with that show) that didn’t look too daunting.

Ruby’s recipes are so easy to follow and delicious! This book’s definitely gotten a workout since I bought it.

I had always thought that making bagels would be a tricky process because there’s boiling water involved, but it turns out that I was really wrong. Bagel making, while not a walk in the park, isn’t too difficult to try your hand at. I had to make a couple of tweaks to Ruby’s recipe because I sadly didn’t have the rye flour or caraway seeds that the recipe called for, but the results still made me feel as if I was in bagel heaven, and I daresay, were slightly better than they would have been with the addition of rye.

Now you’ll have to forgive me, this recipe is in grams and millilitres because the book I have was published in the U.K. (and I was too lazy to figure out what each measurement was in cups, sorry!). I would recommend just getting a small kitchen scale from Target (that’s where I got mine); the cheapest one they have (mine) is $14.99. I promise, having a digital kitchen scale will definitely come in handy down the road!

Just a word of caution, bagel dough is meant to be dryer than normal bread dough, so don’t get scared if it’s tougher and not as sticky as you think a dough should be (I freaked out about how dry my dough was, but the bagels turned out just fine!). I’m not going to lie, it took everything in me not to add more water to my dough because I couldn’t believe that a bread dough was supposed to be that tough and dry, but it is 100% supposed to be that way. DON’T ADD EXTRA WATER.

After willing yourself not to add extra water and letting the dough rise (built in nap time), it’s dough shaping time. This part is a breeze. You just divide the risen dough into eight pieces, form each one into a ball and then, taking one at a time, use your fingers to punch a whole through the center of the dough ball. Once you’ve made a hole, stretch the dough all the way around, moving it in a circle (making the hole bigger and bigger as you stretch it), until you have something that resembles (even vaguely, it’s all about creative interpretation, right?) a bagel.

If you have polenta just chilling in your pantry (I have no idea why, but I surprisingly did–polenta is actually really good if you cook it right, but that’s for another post) you can spread some of it over a cookie sheet and lay your beautifully shaped bagels on top. The polenta will keep the dough from sticking to the pan, but if you don’t have polenta, no worries, just use some flour instead.

Bagels sittin’ pretty on a bed of polenta.

Now comes the fun part. Boiling! It might also be called poaching the bagels…I’m not quite up to snuff on all the correct bagel lingo and terminology. Nonetheless, once you’ve got your pot of water boiling, it’s time to add the baking soda. When you add it, the water will fizz up a little like you’re pouring pop into a cup. I don’t know, I thought it was kind of fun to watch (a little chemistry to help you get through your day). Then you just add your dough, one at a time, and let it sit on each side for about a minute or so. This time in the water is what gives a bagel its trademark chewiness. If you’re ever on Jeopardy! and that’s the answer to one of the questions, you’re welcome.

This bagel’s just floating away on it’s spa getaway.

After their 60 seconds on each side, the bagels go back onto a greased or parchment paper lined cookie sheet, get brushed with water and finally adorned with a generous amount of everything seasoning (the more the better in my book). You can use either store-bought seasoning or homemade (I just googled everything seasoning and made my own, but if you already have some laying around, just use the pre-made stuff!).

Almost too pretty to eat. ALMOST.

Then you’re good to go! Just bake them in the oven at 355º F for 20-25 minutes and voilà! You have yourself some scrumptious homemade bagels just waiting to be eaten with a healthy heap of cream cheese, a hardy helping of lox, and a sprinkling of crunchy capers, or however you prefer your bagels (they’re your bagels, do with them what you wish. As long as it’s legal, that is).

So yeah, that’s all there is to it. Sorry bagels, I’ve just outed you; you’re not as tough to make as you like people to think you are.

I feel kind of like a professional bagel maker now. Maybe I should make people call me Bruegger now, what do you thing? Next time you see me, I’ll have legally changed my name unless I hear I should do otherwise.

In all seriousness though, I hope you try out making homemade bagels for yourself. They’re absolutely worth the trouble!

Here’s the recipe:

Happy baking!:)