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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!

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Posted by on April 1, 2012 in Breads and Rolls

 

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A good day for soup.

Let me begin by stating one of the basic facts of my life: I love soup.

I really don’t care what the season is, what the weather is, or even what time of day it is- I simply love soup!  There’s just something so wonderfully comforting and relaxing about a good (not out of a can) bowl of soup, preferably with some fresh bread alongside, and I refuse to limit that wonderful feeling to a set time, temperature, or season.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s always a good day for soup!

This weekend’s soup offering was one of my favorites, a variation on a Crock-Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup recipe I found on DisneyFamily.com several months back.  I’m not usually a fan of soups that are heavy on the tomatoes, but something about this recipe pulled me in, so I decided to give it a shot.  Of course, as usual, I didn’t have all of the ingredients on hand, so I made some changes along the way that I ended up liking better than the original!  You can see the first version of the recipe by clicking the link above, but here’s my version of Chicken Tortilla Soup:

 

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Ingredients

  • 4-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (I get them in packages of 6, so I put them all in)
  • 2 10-ounce cans of RO*TEL tomatoes, including juice (I use one Mild and one Mexican Lime & Cilantro, but you can use the spicier versions if desired)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 15-ounce can of petite diced tomatoes, including juice
  • 1 32-ounce box of chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon cumin (chili powder works in a pinch)
  • Kosher salt and pepper (as desired- I rarely add either)
  • Shredded Monterey jack cheese
  • Chopped fresh tomatoes (for garnish)
  • Fresh tortillas, cut into strips, or tortilla chips (for garnish)

Directions

  1. Place the boneless, skinless chicken thighs in the bottom of your slow cooker.  (I prefer to use a disposable liner in my slow cooker- it’s not perfect, but it cuts down the clean-up considerably!)
  2. In a large bowl, mix the RO*TEL, garlic, onion, canned tomatoes, cumin, and 1 cup of the chicken broth.
  3. Pour the tomato mixture over the chicken, spreading to distribute evenly. 
  4. Cover and cook on HIGH for 3 hours, or until the chicken is tender.
  5. Remove the chicken to a bowl and shred, using the tines of two forks to pull it apart.  (I occasionally will just attack it with my kitchen shears for a quick chop)
  6. Return the chicken to the slow cooker, along with the remaining chicken broth, and stir to combine.  Adjust seasoning as desired at this time.
  7. If desired, you can stir in your fresh tortilla strips prior to serving.  (I generally skip this step, because I’m just as happy without it, but then it’s technically not tortilla soup…)
  8. Serve hot with a generous helping of shredded cheese and some fresh tomatoes and tortilla chips to garnish.

 

I always double this recipe, because it freezes beautifully!  If you would like to freeze your soup, simply spray the cups of a muffin tin (I use a jumbo muffin tin) with cooking spray and fill the cavities about 3/4 of the way with soup.  Cover the tin with plastic wrap and freeze.  (You can stack several trays in the freezer if you put a piece of cardboard between them!)  When frozen, remove the soup pucks from the tin and store them in a zippered freezer bag (if the soup won’t come out, you can run a little bit of hot water over the back of the tin to loosen).  To reheat, simply put several soup pucks into a microwave-safe bowl or mug and cook until hot, stirring occasionally.  This is one of those tricks that I wish I’d known about sooner, because it’s just as easy to make a lot of soup as it is to make a little, and it’s fabulous to have a supply of home-made soup ready on a whim!

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2012 in Recipes, Soups

 

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Bringing Bagels to Bayern

Germany is a great place to live if you’re a bread addict!  (I’ve heard that it’s pretty cool if you’re a beer addict, too, but I tend to prefer my carbs in a solid format…)  Everywhere that you go, there are bakeries full of fresh-baked breads, pretzels, and pastries.  Even the supermarkets have great bread, and since the Germans tend to use fewer preservatives than we do in the States (yet another bonus of living over here), you just HAVE to go on a daily basis for fresh supplies!  (A serious hardship, don’t you know…)

Because of the baked abundance that’s so readily available, I don’t usually bother to make bread when we’re over here.  There are few things I would normally make that I can’t pick up at the bakery on a whim, so I tend to turn my baking time in other directions.  However, there is one thing that you just can’t get over here, and that’s a good, warm bagel.  The commissary on base sells the frozen (hockey puck) bagels, and there are occasionally some fresh bagels available in the bakery section, but I’ve been spoiled by my years on the East coast.  If I’m going to eat a bagel, I want a REAL bagel, and after looking over many, many recipes, I finally decided to take the plunge!

I was recently lucky enough to stumble on a Pin of a post from The Wednesday Chef that featured a bagel recipe from Peter Reinhart.  My inner bagel skeptic was hesitant to believe that they could be as good as they looked in The Wednesday Chef’s pictures, until I read the following:  “…you’re going to have a tray of gorgeously brown and crisp-skinned bagels in your kitchen, making your house smell like H&H (I used to live across the street from their 80th Street outpost – I know that smell like I know my own mother’s).”  That’s right, this recipe was passed along by someone who’d been to the source, someone who should know from bagels!  With that golden endorsement, I decided that it was time to jump in, hands first, and end my bagel drought once and for all.

Peter Reinhart’s Bagels

Makes 6 to 8 bagels according to the original recipe specs, but I tripled the recipe below and ended up with 16.  (I like big bagels, I cannot lie…)
 

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2C (1 LB) unbleached flour (You can use either bread or all-purpose, but I used the Gold Medal ‘Better for Bread’ flour.  I also used my digital scale for the measurement- much easier and more accurate!)
  • 3t salt (I used Kosher), divided
  • 3/4t instant (rapid rise or bread machine) yeast
  • 1T honey or barley malt syrup (I used honey- apparently you can get the barley malt syrup in health food stores, but I have no clue where I’d even begin to look for that over here!)
  • 1C plus 2T water
  • 1t baking soda
  • Poppy or sesame seeds, kosher salt, or whatever else you want to use as a topping

Directions

  1. In a nice, big bowl, mix the flour, 2 teaspoons of the salt, the yeast, honey and the water by hand until the ingredients form a stiff, coarse ball of dough, about 3 minutes. (Just a tip- the honey will be MUCH easier to work with if you spray your measuring spoon with a little bit of oil first!)  If necessary, add a little more water (carefully- I over-added, so I needed a touch more flour to balance it out). Let the dough rest 5 minutes.

  2. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until the dough feels stiff yet supple, with a satiny, slightly tacky feel, 2 to 3 minutes. If the dough seems too soft or too tacky, sprinkle over just enough flour as needed.

  3. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to several hours. Keep in mind that the bagels must be shaped before proofing overnight.

  4. When ready to shape the bagels, line a baking sheet with lightly greased parchment paper or a silicone baking mat (I used parchment with a light spray of oil).

  5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it into 6 to 8 equal pieces (again, I tripled the recipe above and made 16 total- it all depends on how big you want your bagels to be). Form each piece into a loose, round ball by rolling it on a clean, dry work surface with a cupped hand; do not use any flour on the surface. If the dough slides around and won’t ball up, wipe the work surface with a damp paper towel and try again – the slight amount of moisture will provide enough “bite” for the dough to form a ball. When each piece has been formed into a ball, you are ready to shape the bagels.

  6. PLEASE NOTE:  I did NOT follow step #6 or the first part of step #7!  Based on something said in the blog comments over at The Wednesday Chef, I opted to form my bagels by pinching a hole in the center of each doughball and then spinning the dough hula-hoop style around a floured finger until the opening was the size I wanted.  Much faster than rolling out ropes, and (in my opinion) more fun, too!  However, for those of you who want to re-live your Play-Doh snake making days, I’ve left the original directions, shown in blue, for your enjoyment…Using your hands and a fair amount of pressure, roll each dough ball into a “rope” 8 to 10 inches long. (Moisten the work surface with a damp paper towel, if necessary, to get the necessary bite or friction). Slightly taper the rope at the ends so that they are thinner than the middle. Place one end of the dough between your thumb and forefinger and wrap it around your hand until the ends overlap in your palm; they should overlap by about 2 inches. Squeeze the overlapping ends together and then press the joined ends into the work surface, rolling them back and forth a few times until they are completely sealed.

  7. Remove the dough from your hand and squeeze as necessary to even out the thickness so that there is a 2-inch hole in the center.(Okay now, back to the regularly scheduled recipe…)Place the bagel on the prepared sheet pan. Repeat with the other pieces. Lightly wipe the bagels with oil (I used spray), cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.

    Who knew that flinging dough around could be so much fun?


  8. Remove the bagels from the refrigerator 90 minutes before you plan to bake them. Fill a large stockpot with 3 quarts of water (be sure the water is at least 4 inches deep), cover with a lid, and slowly bring the water to a boil. When it comes to a boil, add the remaining teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking soda, reduce the heat and simmer with the lid on.

  9. Thirty minutes before baking, heat the oven to 500 degrees.

  10. Test the bagels by placing one in a bowl of cold water. If it sinks and doesn’t float to the surface, return it to the sheet, wait 15 minutes and then test it again. When one bagel passes the float test, they are ready for the pot.

  11. Gently lift each bagel and drop it into the simmering water. Add as many as will comfortably fit in the pot. After 1 minute, use a slotted spoon to flip each bagel over. Poach for an extra 30 seconds. Using the slotted spoon, remove each bagel and return it to the lined baking sheet. Continue until all the bagels have been poached.  (I noticed that the bagels that I put in at a full boil puffed up better than the ones I did at a simmer- not sure if that was just coincidence, but I’m going to go for a heavier boil next time.)

    Bubbling Bagels


  12. Generously sprinkle each bagel with a topping. (Note: If you want to do a cinnamon sugar bagel, you need to wait until the bagels come out of the oven- see step #14 for further instructions.)

    Poppy Seeds...

    Sesame Seeds...

    Kosher Salt...


  13. Place the baking sheet in the oven and reduce the heat to 450 degrees. Bake for 8 minutes and then rotate the sheet (if using two sheets, also switch their positions). Check the underside of the bagels. If they are getting too dark, place another sheet under the baking sheet. Bake until the bagels are golden brown, an additional 8 to 12 minutes.

  14. Remove from the oven and transfer the bagels to a rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.  If you’d like to top your bagels with cinnamon sugar (1 part cinnamon to 5 parts granulated sugar), immediately brush the top of each hot bagel with melted butter and then generously sprinkle with the mixture so that it is coated. It will form a nice cinnamon crust as it cools.

    Seriously, I have to wait 30 minutes???

Now that I’ve made these, I’m kicking myself for waiting so long.  The hardest thing about this recipe is the waiting!  They may not be as pretty as the bagels I used to grab for breakfast every morning, but the taste and texture were exactly what I was hoping for.  Next time around, I’ll probably make a few aesthetic tweaks (putting them on the slotted spoon to lower them into the water may preserve the shape, and waiting until I have some caffeine in my system would probably help, too…), but over all, I’d call this a success.  The inner bagel skeptic has been put to rest, and my cravings have been satisfied.  Or, at least they were satisfied this morning- now that I’ve written this and put up all of these pictures, I think it may be time for another bagel or two…

 
 

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