Category Archives: Bread

Challah Monkey Bread and Goldilocks

Shabbat dinner at our house just got a whole bunch more fun this week. piece removed 2If you have never heard of monkey bread, let me enlighten you. Essentially it is a yeast dough that is rolled into small balls, dipped in melted butter, then rolled in sugar and cinnamon and layered in a Bundt pan to rise. As it spends time in the oven, the little balls fuse together like  pieces of an interlocking puzzle-cake. Once it is baked, everyone pulls off the little balls of delicious dough with their hands and pops them in their mouth. As much fun to make as it is to eat. More fun than a barrel of monkeys!

How it got the name, “monkey bread” is up for debate. Some say that since monkeys are known for pulling at everything, when humans pull the warm butter drenched, cinnamon and sugar coated balls of baked dough off the finished loaf, we resemble a bunch of monkeys. Others have suggested that the way it is eaten, torn, piece by piece off the loaf resembles how monkeys pick at their food. Whatever the explanation, monkey bread is irresistible.

When I opened my inbox earlier this month and saw that Alexandra Penfold at Serious Eats was struck by the genius idea to create monkey bread from challah dough, I knew I had to try it. I make challah every week. My favourite challah dough is made with 2/3 all-purpose white flour and 1/3 whole wheat flour. Alexandra said that bread flour is best for making this version, so I followed her recipe. My mom was visiting me this week, so we made it together. I made the dough on Thursday and stuck it in the fridge for a slow overnight rise. You can make this all in one day if you like, but I find it easier to make the dough a day or two ahead of time and let it sit in the fridge until the day I want to serve it.

The dough gets divided into 64 pieces and then each piece is rolled into a ball. My mom has lots of patience for these kinds of projects. It would also be a perfect thing to do with kids! My daughter wants to make it with me when she comes to visit later this month.dividing dough

rolling into ballsThen each little dough ball is plunged into a bath of warm melted butter, followed by a dip into a tub of brown sugar and cinnamon.dipping in butter and sugar-cinnamonThe challah dough balls are then layered in a greased bundt pan. ready for oven 2After a 90 minute rise, the bread is ready for the oven. Once baked, it needs to cool for a bit before you can turn it out of the pan and cover it in cinnamon bun type of icing.icing

close up of insideThe monkey bread elicited lots of oohs and aaahs as I brought it to the table. We made the blessing on the challah monkey bread and then everyone tore into it. If you envision the best part of a cinnamon bun, that gooey center bit of dough, then you will understand the genius behind monkey bread. Each piece of monkey bread that you rip off is coated in that perfect sticky goo! After dinner, I left the remainder of the bread on the counter. It was gone by morning. I suspect we may have been visited by a barrel of monkeys in the middle of the night.all icedThrilled as I was by the results, I was a little disappointed that the finished bread was a bit squat, not tall and majestic as I had hoped. I suspected that Alexandra used a smaller sized Bundt pan. I used a standard 12 cup Bundt pan.  So, I did a little research and discovered that there is a smaller size Bundt pan, a 6 cup size. I ordered the smaller one and made a second challah monkey bread.

I used my challah dough in this version. The smaller pan filled up quite nicely.small pan ready for ovenAs the bread was baking, and filling the house with the insanely delicious aroma of cinnamon and brown sugar, I decided to take a peek into the oven. Ooops!pan too smallI failed to take into account that the dough would continue to rise. I felt like Goldilocks in the Three bears story. The first pan was too big for the dough. The second pan was too small. Then I emailed Alexandra to find out what size pan she used. Apparently there is a 9 inch silicone Bundt pan that holds 10 cups… just right!

The overflowing disaster monkey bread disapppeared just as quickly as the first one. The feedback I got was that everyone preferred the softer texture of the dough made from the all purpose flour and whole wheat flour combo dough, over the chewier texture from the bread flour dough. I did briefly consider ordering the 9 inch pan and remaking it a third time so my photo would be perfect for this post. My family told me that as much as they loved the Challah Monkey Bread, a third one in the span of one week was just too much fun for them to handle.

Click here to print recipe for Challah Monkey Bread.

If you are curious and would like to try Alexandra’s bread flour Challah Monkey Dough, click here.

Delicious Gluten Free Bagels… An Oxymoron?

ready to eat 625 sq 2I consider myself to be something of a bagel aficionado. Partly because I have eaten my fair share (and perhaps several others fair shares as well) over my life span, and partly because I have baked hundreds of bagels myself, after learning the craft when I participated in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge.

I will not delve into the hotly contested debate of New York vs. Montreal style bagels, because really, that argument is laden with trash talking and never ends well. For those not familiar with the difference between the two styles, a little bagel primer here.

Montreal bagels are thin, a little sweet and quite chewy. They are boiled and then baked in a wood fired oven. They are really only good within the first few hours of being baked. After that, they get quite tough and leathery. New York bagels are bigger, doughier and fluffier than Montreal style bagels. They are also boiled first and then baked, but not usually in a wood fired oven.

montreal bagels labellednyc bagel labelledOne’s bagel preference is imprinted on them early in childhood and it’s extremely tough to shake it.   Personally, I do not care for either Montreal or New York bagels. I grew up in Toronto, and for me, bagel bliss is a Bagel World Twister. Weighing in at 8 ounces, these behemoths are chewy in the center and heavily seeded with poppy to create an extreme crunch on the outside. Twisters are spiralled by hand; the dough is literally twisted before the loop is closed to form the bagel. The result is that the baked bagels tear apart in beautiful little sections. All the better to slather on salted butter.twister 625Bagel World realized that it is a hazard to your health to eat twisters on a regular basis, so they created Twister flagels (flat bagels). I do not care for them quite as much as a regular twister since the chewy middle part has all but been eliminated. Sadly, I no longer live in Toronto and here in Ottawa bagels are made in the Montreal style. Blech!

I’ll be so bold as to bring a different species of bagel into this discussion: The Gluten-Free Bagel. Are delicious gluten-free bagels possible, or is that an oxymoron? Up until about 5 years ago, I would have said that gluten-free bagels should not even be allowed in the same conversation as regular bagels. We put out youngest son on a gluten free diet about 12 years ago, and one of the hardest things for him to give up were bagels. I tried buying commercially made gluten-free bagels and truthfully, they were awful. The vast majority of them were made from a combination of rice flour and tapioca starch. The texture was quite gluey.

Then, a friend of mine, who suffers from Celiac disease, gave me a recipe for gluten-free bagels that he discovered in the magazine “Living Without.” I was sceptical, but when I read the list of ingredients, I was intrigued. These bagels incorporate 6 different types of flour (Garbanzo-fava bean flour, brown rice flour, arrowroot flour, potato starch, tapioca flour and amaranth flour) to create a multi-grain flour blend.  In addition, the recipe also calls for flax meal (ground up flax seeds). All these ingredients combine together to create a bagel with some heft and chew. I will be honest and tell you that they are best toasted, but if you are unable to have gluten, these really are a delicious substitute.

I make them regularly for my son and decided to blog about it, since gluten-free diets seem to be gaining in popularity. Today I made a batch of seeded (poppy and sesame) and a second batch of cheddar jalapeno gluten-free bagels. The dough for regular flour bagels needs to spend a night or even two in the fridge to allow the gluten and flavours to develop. Since these are gluten-free, they can be made quite quickly.

This is quite a sticky dough, so it is best made in a stand mixer. Start out with the paddle attachment and then switch to the dough hook after several minutes of mixing. A plastic pastry scraper will make it easier to get the dough out of the bowl and a metal bench scraper makes portioning the dough easier.essentials labelled

jamie's bagel mixadding liquidcutting dough with bench scraperrolling balls of dough 2making the holestretching dough boiling bagelsThe seeds are sprinkled on after boiling and before baking.seeded bagels ready for ovenFor the cheddar jalapeño bagels, I mixed in some shredded cheddar and finely diced pickled jalapeño peppers. After 10 minutes in the oven, they get topped with some additional cheddar, for the the last 10 minutes of baking.

adding cheese topping after 10 minutes of bakingcheddar jalapeno bagels done

bagels in wooden dough bowlClick here to print recipe for Gluten-Free Seeded Bagels.

Click here to print recipe for Gluten Free Cheddar Jalapeno Bagels.with cream cheese and jam

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Farinata and a leap of faith.

Sometimes in life, you just have to take a leap of faith and believe that it will all turn out ok. I am not what you would call a worrier. I have discovered that the things you stay up all night angsting over usually never end up happening. It is those things it never even occurred to you to worry about that blindside you and whack you over the head. So I live my life somewhat like a turtle, not waiting for catastrophes to befall me. Disasters know where to find me if they need me.

Today’s blog post involves a recipe that takes a leap of faith to make. I was served Farinata (Italian Chickpea Flatbread) by my girlfriend Marla last week. I was visiting her in Toronto and she served me this unusual flatbread. It was a crispy and golden on top, and addictively chewy in the center. The bottom crust had a thin film of deliciously fruity olive oil and the flatbread was flavored with rosemary, salt and black pepper. She discovered the recipe on the lovely blog, Kalyn’s Kitchen.

My friend Marla is one of the brightest and accomplished women I know. She was recently named one of Canada’s Top Women Entrepreneurs. In addition to being smart as hell, she is also quite elegant and stylish. She drinks Champagne cocktails. And on top of all that, she is a fantastic cook. Everytime she cooks for me, I leave with exciting new ideas and recipes to try.

Farinata is a thin flatbread made from chickpea flour. It originated in the Italian region of Liguria. It is quite a popular snack there. Bakeries throughout the Ligurian region post the time in their windows that the farinata will be coming out of the oven and customers line up around the corner for a hot slice. I did not post a sign letting my family know when it was coming out of our oven, but somehow they knew exactly when to appear in the kitchen to devour it.

It is the perfect appetizer to serve with drinks. Marla suggested topping room temperature slices with arugula, shaved slices of Parmigiano-Reggiano, fresh figs and then drizzling the whole thing with a good aged balsamic vinegar. I was unable to find the fresh figs, but even without them, it was amazing. My friend Josh said it tasted like summer!

The leap of faith for this recipe comes when you mix all the ingredients together and look at the “dough”. Chickpea flour, water, olive oil and salt are mixed together in a large bowl. I ended up switching to a whisk to make the batter smooth. The batter was so thin and watery I just couldn’t believe that this would turn into a flatbread.

After mixing, the batter is left on the counter to rest for several hours. I was quite busy and did not get back to it for about 8 hours. When I returned, it looked exactly as it had that morning. For some reason I had expected it to have thickened or at least risen or bubbled. But it still resembled a very thin crepe batter. I preheated the oven to 475° F and once it was hot I placed a 12 inch round pizza pan in the oven for about 10 minutes to get it blisteringly hot. While I waited, I chopped up some fresh rosemary and mixed it into the batter. You could also use a 9 x 13 inch baking sheet with sides.

Once the hot pan comes out of the oven, cover the bottom with a thin film of good olive oil. I used about a tablespoon. Pour in the batter, sprinkle with some freshly ground black pepper and prepare to take a second leap of faith, that you will get the pan from the counter into the oven without spilling any batter. I placed my pizza pan on a sheet pan, but still managed to spill some on the bottom of my oven when I was sliding it in.

I kept turning on the oven light to see if anything was happening. I was convinced I was going to end up with chickpea soup. Sure enough, at around the 10 minute mark, it started to solidify around the edges, and after a further 10 minutes, I had a golden chickpea flatbread!

This is wonderful served plain without any toppings, but let your imagination go wild. Pecorino Romano, pears and honey would be fantastic. I would also love to try it with burrata, basil and ripe summer tomatoes!

Click here to print the recipe for Farinata.

Summer Crostini

There are times when you feel like being culinarily creative and making beautiful lunches like these for weekend cottage guests.

And there are times when you don’t feel like moving from here:

and want to suggest to those guests that they just help themselves to a peanut butter and sour cherry jam sandwich!

Happily there are several options in between these two. Option #1, and my personal favourite, is when weekend guests are invited and invariably ask what they can bring, suggest “lunch for Saturday.” When my mother heard that I do this on a regular basis, she was horrified. Had she not raised me to be a gracious host?

Actually, I think that people feel happy to contribute when being invited for the weekend (or longer, and those to whom I am referring, know exactly who you are!) And truthfully, it’s not the cooking that I mind. It’s the planning and figuring out what to make that takes up so much mental energy. So it’s nice to let someone else figure it all out and just show up at the table and be surprised. However, there is a caveat here. Make sure that your friends are comfortable in the kitchen and possess a basic skill set for preparing  meals.

I have one friend who used to use up every dish, pot and utensil when she prepared her meals. We would eat brunch at 2 in the afternoon. They were exquisite brunches but way too much for a cottage. Happily, she has gotten into the swing of things and now prepares perfect meals without destroying the kitchen. This friend is in fact, so comfortable in my kitchen and knows exactly where everything goes, that she and my husband joke that in the event of my demise, she will just slip seamlessly into place and become the woman of the house. Truthfully, all my friends are wonderful cooks and I love having them take over my kitchen.

Another friend makes sure we always have enough wine and her salads and salad dressings are so creative and inspiring. Did you ever notice how much better salad tastes when someone else makes it?

One friend takes her responsibility so seriously that she begins researching the meal she will prepare as soon as we settle on a weekend. She is an extremely accomplished cook and last year we feasted on Peruvian Grilled Chicken, Chile Roasted Sweet Potatoes and a 7 Layer Coconut Cake for our Saturday night dinner. Her husband is a skilled mixologist and she just told me he has perfected the Negroni, so I am looking forward to sampling that when they come to visit in August.

Option # 2, if you just aren’t comfortable turning over your kitchen, or have control issues or whatever, is to cook on auto-pilot. Perfect one special lunch and just make it every weekend, for the rotation of guests that turn up. If you have different guests every weekend they won’t know that you do this and you will look perfectly at ease turning out a wonderful lunch.

Here is my auto-pilot lunch that got its test spin last weekend, to rave reviews, I may add. These crostinis  will be appearing on the menu every Saturday for the next 8 weeks!

These crostini were featured in an article in the June 2011 issue of Bon Appetit. I have adapted them slightly. The first one features ripe peaches, ricotta and honey. I made Homemade Ricotta Cheese, but feel free to use store-bought. Just don’t try making this with less than perfectly ripe peaches. Although the peaches I bought were not yet local, they were the “tree ripened” variety, and after a few days on the kitchen counter, they smelled like peaches.

The finished crostini get a drizzle of honey just before serving.

The second crostini has a base of feta, sour cream and pickled jalapenos. It is topped with grilled corn, cilantro and a squeeze of lime. For these I used a multi-grain baguette and rubbed the  grilled bread slices with a garlic clove.

I set out all the prepared ingredients on trays and let everyone assemble their own. Much easier and way more fun. There are so many excellent quality Artisan breads available in supermarkets now. Have fun with your choices but be sure you slice the bread thinly (less than 1/2 an inch thick). You want the toppings to be the star, not the bread.

Click here to print the recipe for Peach and Ricotta Crostini.

Click here to print the recipe for Grilled Corn Crostini

No Knead Bread

 

After reading the title of this post you may have either one of two reactions. If you are a fellow bread freak you may be saying to yourself, “What?? Who is she kidding?  That is so last decade. Mark Bittman wrote about Jim Layhey’s revolutionary no-knead bread in 2006! Every food blogger worth her salt has reported on this bread.” If you are not a bread freak, you may be saying, “What?? No knead bread. She’s been inhaling too much bleached bread flour.  How could that be possible?” So, to the bread freaks reading this, I apologize for reporting on something you have already heard about ad nauseam. To the rest of you, I say, yes, this is possible and it’s spectacular. (sorry, couldn’t resist that link!)

Although I first heard about this no-knead bread over two years ago, I only just tried it for the first time last week. I then made it a second time, 4 days later because I just couldn’t get over how simple it was to produce such amazing bread. There are 2 major factors at play here that help create this wonderful bread. The first is mixing up a very wet dough and letting it sit, at room temperature for 18 hours. Food scientist, Harold McGee, explained it like this, to Bittman,

“It makes sense. The long, slow rise does over hours what intensive kneading does in minutes: it brings the gluten molecules into side-by-side alignment to maximize their opportunity to bind to each other and produce a strong, elastic network. The wetness of the dough is an important piece of this because the gluten molecules are more mobile in a high proportion of water, and so can move into alignment easier and faster than if the dough were stiff.”

The second major factor involved in making this bread is where Jim Lahey’s real genius comes into play. He discovered that by baking the bread in a covered preheated cast iron or enamel pot (like a Le Creuset), you mimic the steam ovens that professional bakers use to develop that crisp crackling crust so desirable on artisan breads. During my 18 month journey through the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge, I tried all sorts of methods to produce steam in my home oven. I put a pan of hot water at the bottom of the oven, I sprayed the sides of my oven wall with a plant mister during baking, I added ice cubes to the oven during the baking process and I even tried adding lava rocks to the pan of hot water, to mimic a sauna. I never did achieve that holy grail of crackling crust.

I discovered a version of the original recipe with some wheat bran added to the dough. (Chatelaine Magazine Feb. 2011 issue)  I really loved the addition of the wheat bran. Truly, the only thing difficult about making this bread is remembering to start the night before you want to serve it. It had been awhile since I last baked bread so I was excited to get back to it again.

Over the past two years I have accumulated quite a bit bread making paraphernalia, so it was great to use some of it again. In Jim Lahey’s video he says to just use your hands to mix up the dough but I was excited to use my special King Arthur bread whisk again. If you plan to make lots of bread, get one of these. If not, your hands work just fine.

Once mixed, the dough will appear quite shaggy and rough-looking. That’s ok, it’s supposed to look that way. Just cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it on the counter for 18 hours. It is a big leap of faith to take, I know, but trust me, it works. After 18 hours, it will have all smoothed out and the surface will have fine bubbles on it.

In the original recipe, Jim says to just form a ball and place it on a cotton towel, cover it and let rise. Since I had a special bread rising basket in my cupboard (a banneton) I decided to use that. A banneton is woven bread mold, usually made of made of cane and is used to form and shape artisan loaves during the proofing/raising stage. The basket imprints its shape and ribbed design on the finished loaf. They can be ordered online from Brotform (U.S.) or Goldas Kitchen (Canada). You can also just line a colander with a clean cotton towel, although you won’t get the cool design on your bread.

I found it best to lightly flour the counter and then wet my hands to scrape the dough out of the bowl. I did not want to add too much more flour as the high hydration level of the dough is what gives you the big open crumb structure (ie: big holes) of the finished bread. Bread freaks aim for big holes in their finished bread. If you are at all interested in reading more about this subject and finding our why big holes are desirable, visit The Fresh Loaf’s website. A very animated discussion on this very topic has been raging for the past week. Yes, bread freaks are a strange and wonderful breed!

Once the dough is dumped out onto the counter, just fold it over itself, sort of like a business letter. Then, cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.

Then you want to shape the dough into a ball.

After dough is shaped you can just place it on a floured towel and cover it with a second towel, or you can put it in a basket or colander to let it rise for about 2 hours. I heavily floured my banneton with rice flour and then dumped out the excess, and set my dough in there to rise. You will notice I put the dough in seam side up. That is because after it has risen, I will dump it into the hot pot for baking and the top (with the pinched seam) will hit the pot first and become the bottom and then my pretty ribbed design, from the basket, will become the top.

A few words about the pot to cook the dough in. Just about any covered 6-8 quart covered pot will work here. Cast iron or enameled cast iron (like Le Creuset) work very well for this job. I have also read that ceramic and Pyrex would work also, but have not tried them. These are the kind of pots I am talking about.

The pot with lid must be preheated in a 450º F oven for at least 30 minutes before baking the bread. It is a bit scary dumping the bread into the hot pot, but just wear oven mitts and dump quickly. If it goes in a bit uneven, just wiggle the pot back and forth a bit to straighten it out. It will all turn out fine.

Resist all temptation to slice the bread as soon as it comes out of the oven. It continues to cook a bit more as it cools. It will be gummy in the centre if you slice right away.

To print recipe for No-Knead Bread, click here.