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Spent the weekend loafing around…

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a bit of a bread junkie.  I absolutely love all of the fabulous rye and multigrain breads that are available here in Germany, but it’s not as easy to find a good, crusty French boule loaf (usually, the best you can find is a baguette).  I’ve made lots of different kinds of bread before, but for some reason (probably because it was easily attainable at the time), I’d never attempted a French bread.  Luckily, this fabulous, incredibly simple Le Creuset recipe that was featured on Simply So Good recently caught my eye on Pinterest, because it’s just too good to miss!

Like the bagels I posted about a week or so ago, I was initially skeptical when I read about how easy this recipe was supposed to be.  There’s NO prepping the yeast.  NO kneading.  None!  Just a quick mix, a night spent proofing on the counter, and a minute or two spent shaping the dough into a ball.  That’s it!  Could it possibly be that simple to re-create the fragrant, crusty boule loaves that I loved to buy at the French bakery years ago?

Simply put, yes!  I was pleasantly surprised when my initial test loaf came out so much better than I ever anticipated.  My house smelled like a French bakery, which was almost enough reason in and of itself to bake this bread!  The crust is thick and crunchy, and the texture is the perfect density for a good boule. The experiment was a success, and life was good.

And then, I thought, “What about other flavors?…”

But I’m getting ahead of myself- let’s begin with the basics!

 

Basic Crusty Bread

Ingredients

  • 3 cups unbleached all purpose flour (Bread flour seems to work fine, too- I ran out of all purpose last night, so I switched over for today’s dough)
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt (I used kosher salt for most of the batches, but once again, I ran out and went to regular iodized, and it seems to be the same)
  • 1/2 teaspoon yeast (I used regular Active Dry yeast)
  • 1 1/2 cups water (The recipe doesn’t specify, but I went with lukewarm water, because that’s what other bread recipes have required)

Directions

  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and yeast.  The bowl needs to be large enough that it can accommodate rising dough.

  2. Add water and mix until a shaggy mixture forms- it doesn’t need to be pretty, just combined!

  3. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 12 – 18 hours (overnight works great, and I found that the longer the dough proofed, the larger the finished loaf was).

  4. Heat oven to 450 degrees.

  5. When the oven has reached 450 degrees place an enameled cast iron pot with a lid in the oven and heat the pot for 30 minutes.  (I used my Le Creuset Dutch oven for this, and it was perfect- I only wish that I had a big enough oven to fit two!)

  6. When the pot is safely in the oven, pour the dough onto a heavily floured surface and shape into a ball.  (I found that it helped to scrape the dough out with a spatula- just enough to encourage it to let go.  The dough will be sticky, so don’t be stingy with the flour on your hands and work surface!)

    The dough after proofing- it expands a bit, but it's not a huge rise...


  7. Cover your dough ball with plastic wrap and let it set until the 30 minute pre-heat time is up.

  8. Remove the hot pot from the oven, remove the lid, and drop in the dough.  Cover and return to oven for 30 minutes.  (There’s no need to grease or oil the pot- the bread won’t stick!)

  9. After 30 minutes remove the lid and bake an additional 15 minutes.  (Because I was baking several loaves, I simply propped the lid next to the pot so that it didn’t cool off and require another pre-heat.)

    After 30 minutes covered...

    After 15 additional minutes uncovered...


  10. Remove bread from oven and place on a cooling rack to cool.   (This step is the hardest one in the entire recipe- waiting until the bread is fully cool before eating it is downright cruel and unusual!)

 

Now, wasn’t that just beautifully simple?  Hard to believe that something so easy could produce something so very, very good!  Of course, I couldn’t let it be too simple- remember those other flavors I mentioned earlier?…

Let’s Go Bouleing!

The following are just a few different flavor mixes that I’ve put together for this beautifully basic boule recipe.  There are also some great suggestions on the Simply So Good blog (in the post AND in the many, many comments), and even that is just the beginning.  The sky’s the limit, so go crazy, and please share your ideas and successes with the group!

A few rules of thumb:

  • Unless you like your bread really chunky, aim for about a cup of mix-ins, give or take a bit.
  • Add any non-liquid mix-ins (fruit, nuts, cheese, herbs, etc.) to the dry ingredients after you’ve whisked them together.  Once added, whisk again to combine before adding liquid.
  • Try to keep the amount of liquid about the same.  If you add honey or a flavoring, subtract the same amount of water.  (I may be totally off base, but I think it keeps the dough from getting too wet…)
  • If you add a liquid, try to combine it with the water before adding to the dry ingredients.
  • Some ingredients may add moisture when baked, so you may want to decrease the water slightly to compensate.

Mixed Berry and Lemon Zest Boule

This one was an instant hit with my youngest kids- they devoured it with butter and blueberry marmelade, and Nathan officially declared it ‘the bestest’!  I also liked it with butter, but I can’t wait to try it in French toast later on…

Dry Mix-Ins:  1/4 cup each of Just Tomatoes dried strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries; 1/4 cup craisins; the zest from one lemon

Wet Mix-Ins:  One tablespoon of honey (subtract one tablespoon of water to compensate)

 


Prosciutto and Cracked Black Pepper Boule

This was one of my favorite flavors from Klinger’s Bread Company in South Burlington, VT, but I always wished that it came in a boule loaf rather than the very skinny baguette that they sell.  It’s fabulous for grilled cheese sandwiches!

Dry Mix-Ins:  1 cup of chopped Prosciutto ham; 2 teaspoons of coarsely ground black pepper (I used the coarsest setting on my McCormick Black Peppercorn grinder)

 


Mixed Seed Boule

This bread could be done with any variety of seeds, including sunflower, pumpkin, flax, pine nuts, poppy, and sesame.  I opted to use a pre-mixed salad blend of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and pine nuts that I found at our local grocery store.  If you would like to add seeds to the top of the loaf, simply sprinkle them on top of the shaped dough ball before you cover it with plastic to rest before putting it in the pot.

Dry Mix-Ins:  1 cup of assorted seeds with additional to top if desired

 


Apple Cinnamon Almond Boule

Apples.  Almonds.  Bread.  Could it possibly be any better?  This is yummy with butter and a bit of cinnamon sugar on top, but I’m also planning to try French toast with this bread.  I actually caught myself standing next to the oven and sniffing the vents while this loaf baked, because the scent was absolutely phenomenal…

Dry Mix-Ins:  1 cup each of peeled, chopped apple (this was one average apple, I think either Jonagold or Braeburn), tossed with 2 tablespoons of cinnamon sugar; 1/4 cup of sliced almonds

Wet Mix-Ins:  One tablespoon of honey (subtract one tablespoon of water to compensate); 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract (I did NOT subtract water for this, but I leave it to your discretion…)

(Note:  I sprinkled a bit of additional cinnamon sugar over the mixed dough, just for the heck of it.  I’d planned to brush the top of the loaf with melted butter and sprinkle on some cinnamon sugar when I took it out of the oven, but forgot it in the pre-dinner rush.  It’s great without it, but I think it would also be great with it if you’d like to give it a try!)

 


Baby Boules

Once I’d established that this was a great, crusty bread recipe, I realized that it was just right for bread soup bowls!  The full recipe is too big for an individual serving (although it would be great for dips), but by cutting the batch in half, you get a boule that’s just the right size for your favorite soup.  To test the mechanics of the smaller loaf, I mixed up a double batch of the basic boule recipe: 

When it was time to shape the loaves, I emptied the dough out onto my floured bowl and cut it into four portions that I then shaped into balls and covered as usual. 

When you bake the mini loaves, you’ll give them the 30 minutes covered as usual.  For the uncovered portion, I set the timer for 10 minutes and then kept an eye on them until they were the desired shade (usually about 10-12 minutes).  I thought that I could manage to squeeze two mini boules into the pot at once, but I soon discovered that this just wouldn’t work.  Unless you have a bigger pot or an oven big enough for two pots, you’ll have to bake them individually. 

Still, time drain aside, I was very happy with the two mini boules I came out with in the end- they’ll be perfect for our Zuppa Toscana tonight at dinner! 


This is just the beginning of my boule adventures, folks- there are still tons of flavor combinations that I want to test (chocolate chip is proofing as we speak, and I have plans for bacon and cheddar, sun dried tomatoes, Italian herb…), so my oven will definitely be busy.  Please, come back and share any great new combinations that you create so that we can expand our repertoire together!

 
12 Comments

Posted by on April 1, 2012 in Breads and Rolls

 

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Sweets for my sweeties…

My oldest, back when he had Michelin Man rolls and had no idea that these pictures could come back to haunt him later in life...

So, has your Valentine’s Day sugar rush worn off yet? If you were to sneak a peek at the list of chocolate industry-supporting holidays, Valentine’s Day would probably be right up there near the head of the pack. For weeks (since before Christmas in some stores) we’ve been inundated with chocolate hearts in every size, flavor, shape, and color, to the point that they all started to look the same and kind of lost their appeal!  (Don’t get me wrong- I like a good piece of chocolate as much as the next girl, but given a choice, I generally prefer my sweets in the form of baked goods.)  As the holiday rapidly approached and our household pestilence slowly receded, I realized that it was WAY past time to plan for my holiday baking.  Thank goodness for Pinterest!

First on the list was my oldest son’s class Valentine’s Day party. Cupcakes, fruit, and all of the other party basics were already covered by the other fabulous room moms, but we have a few kids with allergies to consider, so I usually plan to make something egg/nut/corn syrup-free so that everyone can share the sugar high. My first plan was to bake up some of these Chocolate-Dipped Brownies from Sweetapolita, using egg replacement powder instead of real eggs.  I baked up a test batch on Monday morning (I’m still leery of the whole fake egg thing), and they were great!  After a day of cutting out PTA Valentine’s hearts, I raced home and threw together a triple batch.  That’s when something went tragically and inexplicably wrong, resulting in three trays of very pretty brownies that were hard as bricks on the bottom. (My best guess would be that baking, doing mental math, and negotiating preschool peace treaties at the same time is just a BAD idea and should never be attempted.)  By the time that I discovered the problem after an evening of prepping Valentines and cutting out red paper hearts, it was about 3am, so I called it a night and decided to try again in the morning.

Down to the wire and suffering from a severe case of sleep deprivation, I decided to skip the brownies and move on to my (untried and untested) back-up recipe, these fabulous Meltaway Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting that I discovered via Pinterest over at Landee See, Landee Do.  Thankfully, the baking gods were smiling that morning, so the cookies were fabulous!  (Please note that there are only two cookies on that plate- that was all that was left for a picture out of a double batch by the time my camera battery charged.  Yes folks, they were that good.)

Meltaway Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 C Butter
  • ¾ C Cornstarch
  • ¾ C Powdered Sugar
  • 1 C Flour
  • 1 Recipe Cream Cheese Frosting (see below)
  1. In a medium bowl, cream butter until fluffy.
  2. Add cornstarch & sugar and blend well.
  3. Beat in flour until thoroughly mixed.
  4. Drop by small teaspoons (a cookie scoop worked well) onto a parchment-covered baking sheet & flatten out with the bottom of a glass. (You’ll need to dip the glass in powdered sugar to prevent sticking.  If you’re making these for yourself, smooshing them down by hand works well, too!)
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
  6. Cool on wire rack & frost with Cream Cheese Frosting.  For the classroom cookies, I simply frosted each cookie and added a dash of red sugar.  Once that quota was filled, I started to play around with the remaining cookies and decided that I liked them even better sandwiched together with a dollop of frosting in the middle as well as the bit on top!

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 (3oz.) Package Cream Cheese, softened
  • 1 C Powdered Sugar
  • ½ t Vanilla Extract
  1. Mix all ingredients together.
  2. Color with food coloring if desired.

After an afternoon packed with baking, class parties, and WAY more sugar than I should ever consume in a 24 hour period, it was time to grab the kids and run for home so that I could prep our Valentine’s Day dinner.  I’d been pondering dessert for a week or so, because I try to do something special each year, and it was a really tough choice!  Normally I go for something that’s high on the chocolate level, like a flourless chocolate cake or a chocolate cheesecake, but this year I decided that I wanted something a bit lighter to follow what is inevitably a big meal eaten later in the evening.

After careful consideration, I settled on a Chocolate Angel Food Cake recipe that I found in the November/December of Cooking with Paula Deen(Side note- I JUST received the November/December issue last Friday.  GO APO MAIL!)  It was a nice, easy recipe to put together, and definitely a departure from our norm.  The chocolate taste was subtle, almost overwhelmed by the cinnamon (I’d probably cut the cinnamon in half next time around), but what struck me as odd was the faint taste of coffee when there’s no coffee in the mix!  I served it up with a drizzle of chocolate and caramel syrups, a puree of strawberries and raspberries, fresh berries, and both plain and chocolate whipped cream (to make the chocolate cream, just add a dash of Ghirardelli sweetened cocoa powder to the whipped cream near the end).  It would probably also be very good with ice cream and hot fudge, or in a trifle with chocolate mousse and berries!

Paula Deen’s Chocolate Angel Food Cake with Mocha Sauce

Makes 10-12 Servings

  • 12 Egg Whites at room temperature
  • 1 t Cream of Tartar
  • 1/4 t Salt
  • 3/4 C Granulated Sugar
  • 1 1/2 C Confectioner’s Sugar
  • 1 C Cake Flour
  • 1/4 C Cocoa Powder (Paula says Dutch process, but we had Hershey’s- you know how that goes…)
  • 1/4 t Cinnamon (I might cut this to 1/8 t next time)
  • Mocha Sauce (I didn’t use this since my husband isn’t a huge coffee fan, but I’ll include it for you all, just in case- it probably compliments the mysterious coffee flavor in the cake quite nicely!)
  1. Preheat oven to 375* F
  2. In a large bowl, beat egg whites until foamy.
  3. Add cream of tartar and salt, and beat until soft peaks form.
  4. Gradually add granulated sugar, beating until stiff peaks form.
  5. In a small bowl, combine confectioner’s sugar, flour, cocoa, and cinnamon.  Sift.  (I’m bad, I hate sifting with a passion, so I didn’t do this- I just fork fluffed…)
  6. Gently fold cocoa mixture into egg white mixture until combined.
  7. Spoon batter into an ungreased 10″ removable-bottom tube pan.
  8. Bake for 32-35 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched.  Remove from oven.
  9. Immediately turn the pan upside down, and place on the neck of a funnel or wine bottle to cool completely.  (This keeps the cake from sinking.  I didn’t quite believe it until I saw it, but the cake actually stays in the pan quite nicely while balancing upside down on a wine bottle!)
  10. Gently run a knife around the outer edge of the pan to release the sides.  Remove the cake from the pan by pushing up on the removable base, and then run a knife along the inner edge and bottom as needed to release the cake from the base.
  11. Serve with warm Mocha Sauce (or berries, ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream…), if desired.

Warm Mocha Sauce

Makes 1 Cup

  • 1 C Chocolate Sauce (Paula recommends Hershey’s)
  • 1 T Instant Espresso Powder
  1. In a small saucepan, heat chocolate sauce over low heat.
  2. Add espresso powder, stirring until dissolved.

And there you have it, our official 2012 Valentine’s Day sugar rush!  Aside from the brownie catastrophe, everything turned out just the way I wanted it, so I’d call the holiday a success.  The only real problem that I ran into was that I was so tired by the time that I’d cooked and eaten dinner, given everyone their Valentines, and gotten the kids settled, that I fell asleep on the couch while my husband took a work call- BEFORE DESSERT!  Luckily, the cake stayed safely balanced overnight on that wine bottle, and it’s just as good the second day…

One final note- if you created something special for Valentine’s Day, head on over to Sew BitterSweet Designs for the Valentine’s Day Showcase link party!  Melissa has thrown the floor open to her readers, and three lucky winners will win some fabulous prizes for linking up to their Valentine’s Day creations.  Definitely too good to miss!

 
4 Comments

Posted by on February 16, 2012 in Cakes, Cookies, Other Baked Delights..., Recipes

 

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