Category: breads

A REAL Irish soda bread.

Daffodils... does that mean spring is here??

It’s daffodil time. Daffodils are a sure sign of spring, right? I mean with a jar of beautiful perky yellow blooms on your table you can’t possibly be faced with more snow. Right? RIGHT?

*sigh* Probably not.

Anyway… it’s also time for Irish soda bread.

Authentic Irish soda bread.

And tons of different kinds of Irish soda bread. Everyone seems to have their own version of it, don’t they? I  do stand by the fact that it ought not to have raisins or caraway seeds in it (even though I really like experimenting & having fun with my recipes). Authentically it’s just straight up & basic. Don’t believe me? Here, read this:

Epicurious: What about the version with butter, raisins, and caraway?
Rory O’Connell: No. That would be regarded as being some sort of exotic bread that wasn’t Irish.

Epicurious: What is your personal opinion about soda bread variations?
Rory O’Connell: I think some are fine. I love plain white soda bread or brown soda bread, but [at Ballymaloe] we also do variations on the theme, using that simple, easy-to-prepare recipe as a vehicle for adding other ingredients—cheese, herbs, olives, roast cherry tomatoes, red onion, garlic. But then we don’t say, “This is an Irish soda bread with sun-dried tomatoes.” We say, “It’s a sun-dried tomato bread made on an Irish soda bread base.” But in a way I don’t mind too much what people are doing with it as long as they’re baking.

-Source

An authentic Irish soda bread, with 4 ingredients.

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Hearty spent grain French bread.

Just a few days ago I posted about bagels, now it’s bread. I know, it’s crazy. But winter time is time to bake a lot of warming, comforting things. And bread is definitely one of those, don’t you think?

Back in August I told you all about my friend Pete, and his home-brew supply store, Homebrews & Handgrenades. I told you all about how he gave me a ton of spent brewing grain to bake with, and I made that bread.

Well things have been a bit busy around here since then. I remodeled almost the entire place, had no appliances, and then there was Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. It hasn’t been conducive to insane recipe experimentation like is required when you get something brand new, like spent grain. So whatever I haven’t used yet is sitting in jars in my freezer, waiting for me to decide what to do.

What is spent grain?
Spent Grain is a byproduct from brewing process. The chemical composition of wet spent grains is given below:
- Water, 80%
- Protein, 5%
- N-free extract, 9%
- Fat, 2%
- Cellulose fibres, 4%
- Minerals, 1%

- source

Spent brewing grain, drying in the oven (click through for cracker recipe).

First, I dried out a bunch of the grain by laying it out on a cookie sheet and baking it at my oven’s lowest setting (170° F) for 7 hours or so, basically “overnight.” This was important because the grain was wet when I got it, and I froze it immediately. That means there was a lot of moisture trapped in there!

Once it was dried (and a little toasted, ’cause I raised the temperature a bit for the last hour), I let it cool completely. Then I used my KitchenAid grain mill attachment to grind it into a flour. I used a somewhat medium grind, it wasn’t too fine but not too coarse. And then- voila- I had spent grain flour! Which, by the way, you can store in your pantry in sealed container for as long as you like.

Spent brewing grain French bread.

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Homemade bagels, part 2.

Homemade bagels in no time!

The last time I posted about homemade bagels was about 5 years ago. Maybe even 6. My photography was horrendous! Jeez. I was totally a newbie blogger, and it shows. But I’m older now, and wiser, and my photography has improved (I hope!) as well as my food-creation in general. Last time, my bagels weren’t quite as golden as they should have been, so since I love bagels and I love making things from scratch I decided to revisit this whole bagel idea. Especially since the photos will be have to be infinitely better.

Make easy homemade bagels & be eating them in no time!

This is an EASIER recipe than the last one. Seriously. The last one wasn’t even hard, just required a few different rising times, etc. This one doesn’t- one 2 hour rise & you’re all good.

So easy that I made it & was eating bagels in no time. And they are GOOD bagels!

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Spent grain bread: grain, keep us together.

When I was a kid, maybe 11, I spent an entire summer listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. Every single day. In my room, in the backyard on a Walkman, at the beach on a Walkman, in the car, etc. For whatever reason that album just did it for me that summer. Because of that, it’s always a “summer album” to me; whenever I hear it I think of summertime. Or at least, that summer. Even when I saw Fleetwood Mac live a few years ago, every song from that album just made me think of summer.

So it’s only natural that when I sat down & started typing about grains as the summer is waning, I somehow inserted the word into a Fleetwood Mac song.

“Graiiiiiin, keep us together… Run in the shadows… Graiiiiin, keep us together…”

Baking bread with spent brewing grain.

Ahem. Anyway, yes, today I’m going to be talking about grains. Specifically the kind left after you make beer, called “spent grains,” which are pictured above.

Back a few months ago, Pete, (a friend of ours for ages- however he’s been Jay’s friend way longer than mine, admittedly), messaged me on Facebook & offered me some of his spent brewing grain to bake with. He’s a home brewer & makes a variety of beer, as well as a new business owner. He has a business in Baldwin, NY called Homebrews & Handgrenades where he sells all kinds of grains for home brewers like himself. Turns out, this grain is largely wasted after the brewing process, because it’s served it’s beer-making purpose. But it’s still perfectly good grain. Yes, some people do bake with it. And others use it as animal feed or as fertilizer. But I’m willing to bet a large portion of it is just a waste.

Brewer’s spent grain (also called spent grain, brewer’s grain or draff) consists of the residue of malt and grain which remains in the mash-kettle after the mashing and lautering process.[84] It consists primarily of grain husks, pericarp, and fragments of endosperm.[85] As it mainly consists of carbohydrates and proteins,[85] and is readily consumed by animals,[86] spent grain is used in animal feed.[86] Spent grains can also be used as fertilizer, whole grains in bread,[87] as well as in the production of biogas. Spent grain is also an ideal medium for growing mushrooms, such as shiitake, and already some breweries are either growing their own mushrooms or supplying spent grain to mushroom farms.[88] This, in turn, makes the grain more digestible by livestock.[89] Spent grains can be used in the production of red bricks, to improve the open porosity and reduce thermal conductivity of the ceramic mass.[90]

- Wikipedia

Beer-making is actually a fascinating thing, one I’d like to learn more about eventually.

Anyway it sounded like an awesome opportunity for me to try something new, so I of course said yes. And I promptly ended up with around 10 lbs. of frozen spent brewing grain in my possession. After defrosting it overnight, I put it into different containers & jars so it would be easier to store.

Spent brewing grain, ready for storage. If you've got some, why not make an easy yeasty bread with it?

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All about sourdough starters.

Happy April! I hope you all had a lovely holiday this past week, regardless of which one you celebrated. Or at the very least, I hope you had just an all-around pleasant week/weekend. I’m exhausted from this past month, so I’m desperately trying to catch my breath. But other than that… I had a great week, and a great holiday.

Before I begin this post, let me say this: I’m no bread expert. I’m no canning expert either, however, and yet I did a little tutorial on the basics of that last summer. But you know, I have made plenty of loaves, plenty of pizza crusts and plenty of yeast-based things to know the basics. Enough to know a thing or two about it. All that said, I’m not a professional breadmaker. I’m not even an every day or every week breadmaker. I make bread whenever I feel like it, and I haven’t done an obscene amount of research beyond what I need to know. That said, I do know enough to ensure that my bread always rises and is never gummy or too tough. I know enough to always use fresh yeast- when in doubt, throw it out. And I also have some experience with starters. Also known as “biga”, “mother dough”, “poolish” or “the thing that makes sourdough bread taste that way.” Starters are a bit more complex than just regular breadmaking, so I’ve done a bit more research into them.

Starters frighten some people. Understandable. They hear the words “fermentation,” “constant feeding” and “can explode in an airtight container” and they get turned off. Or they assume it’s too much work. And I don’t really blame them, because I was the same way. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: things that you’re frightened by are rarely as scary as they seem in your mind. That goes for most things in life, including cooking or baking. A starter really isn’t all that hard, or scary, or dangerous. Yes they can “explode” if put in a container that’s sealed. But this is something that’s very easily circumvented and it really isn’t a big issue at all… especially if you pay attention or have a basic concept of science.

But that’s my point with this blog to begin with: everyone can bake.

Everyone can cook. Everyone can make bread. You don’t have to be a professional or come from a family of cooks- you just have to want to. You just have to have a desire to learn.

This is going to be a very long post with a lot of information. Let’s start (ha ha) with the history of starters, shall we?

A pre-ferment is a fermentation starter used in bread making, and is referred to as an indirect[1][2] method. It may also be called mother dough.

A pre-ferment and a longer fermentation in the bread-making process have several benefits: there is more time for yeast, enzyme and, if sourdough, bacterial actions on the starch and proteins in the dough; this in turn improves the keeping time of the baked bread, and it creates greater complexities of flavor. Though pre-ferments have declined in popularity as direct additions of yeast in bread recipes have streamlined the process on a commercial level, pre-ferments of various forms are widely used in artisanal bread recipes and formulas.

The common, but undocumented, origin given for the term poolish is that it was first used by Polish bakers around 1840, hence its name, and as a method was brought to France in the beginning of the 1920s. “Poolish” however is an old English version of “Polish”, whereas the term seems to be most used in France (where “polonais” is the word for “Polish”). Some nineteenth-century sources use the homonym “pouliche”, a French word that typically means a female foal.[15] With either spelling, the term only appears in French sources towards the last part of the nineteenth century. There is not currently any credible explanation for the origin of the term.

-Wikipedia

This is no-knead sourdough bread, isn’t it pretty? Recipe is down further in this post.

Alrightly then. Interesting, correct? And now let’s find out what exactly is meant by “starter”:

Fermentation starters (called simply starters within the corresponding context) are preparations to assist the beginning of the fermentation process in preparation of various foods and fermented drinks. A starter culture is a microbiological culture which actually performs fermentation. These starters usually consist of a cultivation medium, such as grains, seeds, or nutrient liquids that have been well colonized by the microorganisms used for the fermentation.

These starters are formed using a specific cultivation medium and a specific mix of fungal and bacterial strains.[2][3]

Typical microorganisms used in starters include various bacteria and fungi (yeasts and molds):

Rhizopus, Aspergillus, Mucor, Amylomyces, Endomycopsis, Saccharomyces, Hansenula anomala,Lactobacillus, Acetobacter, etc. Various national cultures have various active ingredients in starters, and often involve mixed microflora.[2]

Industrial starters include various enzymes, in addition to microflora.[2]

A pre-ferment is easy to make and usually consists of a simple mixture of wheat flour, water, and a leavening agent (typically yeast). Two schools of thought exist regarding the inclusion of salt or sugar. They both act to inhibit or slow yeast growth, as determined by time to proof or rise,[16] so they are not usually included and instead are added to the final dough. Ultimately, the amounts of each ingredient, and when they are added, depend on pre-ferment and final-dough formulas.

When expressed as a bakers’ percentage, 50 parts of flour added to 50 parts of water or 1-to-1 is 100% hydration, and results in a relatively fluid pre-ferment. Stiffer doughs such as 50% hydration or 2-to-1, may also be used. After mixing it is allowed to ferment for a period of time, and then is added to the final dough as a substitute for or in addition to more yeast. There are distinctly different brew types of pre-ferments designed for computer-controlled bakeries that use a rather different series of ingredients, including oxidizers, needed for continuous dough-production processes.[17]

Fermentation is sometimes performed in a warm place, or a humidity- and temperature-controlled environment. Cooler-than-room or refrigeration temperatures decelerate growth and increase the time interval,[18] while slightly warmer temperatures accelerate growth and decrease the time interval. Too warm of a temperature slows growth, while even higher temperatures will kill the yeast. Death of the yeast cells occur in the range of 50–60 °C (122–140 °F).[19][20][21] When cooling a levain or sourdough pre-ferment, if the dough temperature drops below 10 °C (50 °F) it affects the culture and leads to the loss of a particular aroma in the baked bread.[14]

To allow room for the pre-ferment to rise, the ingredients are mixed in a container at least four or five times their volume. This is about the point in time when some process similarities of yeast pre-ferments to sourdough or levain starters begins to diverge. The typical amounts of time allotted for the yeast pre-ferment period may range from 2–16 hours, depending on the dough’s temperature and the added amount of viable yeast, often expressed as a bakers’ percentage. Spontaneous sourdough starters take, at a minimum, several days, and are subject to many variables.[3]

To make a sourdough starter from scratch, the minimum-needed ingredients are flour, water, and time. This starter is maintained with daily feedings or refreshments of fresh flour and water or, new dough. It ferments at room temperature until the desired age or minimal number of refreshments, following a refreshment schedule that may include acceleration of time intervals leading into the final dough, then is added to the final dough. When maintaining a starter’s existing weight, it is advised to discard 60% (or more) of the starter, replacing that discarded dough with new dough. If an increased amount of starter is required, simply add new dough. 40-parts-to-60-parts of old-dough-to-new-dough by weight, or 2-to-3, is known as the back-slopping ratio, and changes to that ratio change the pH of the just-refreshed dough.[8] To make a primary-culture levain, Calvel used salt, but less of it than would be typical for many final-dough formulas.[note 3]

-Wikipedia

Yes, it’s a lot to read. But honestly, if you’re going to make something, you should know how and why you’re doing it that way, don’t you think?

At any rate, starters sound very complex, but they really aren’t. Usually they consist of three-four inital ingredients, a fermentation period, feedings, and then refrigeration. Some use a bit of the original dough. Some are thick and some are liquidy. But they all do the same basic thing; add flavor. And all you have to do is keep it warm when it needs to be, and keep it fed and refrigerated when it needs to be. It’s not hard, and it’s not at all easy to screw up. Most starters are incredibly strong & tough- even if you forget to feed them for a while, you can usually get them going again with a little flour and water (equal parts), for example a 1/2 cup of each. The reason they can’t be sealed is because they’re fermenting; there are gases building up almost constantly in there. If you close it off airtight, there’s no where for the gas to go. Kind of like a shaken bottle of Coca-Cola.

(One thing to note before I continue: you shouldn’t have homemade yogurt & a starter going at the same time in the same room/area. They will contaminate each other. For real…)

The starter pictured above (at the top) was used to make the bread pictured above (& below), which is a sourdough no-knead bread with poppy seeds. I’m going to give you two starter recipes here, that one being the second. As a matter of fact, for that one you don’t even really need a recipe, since it’s usually equal parts water/flour with yeast. But I’m going to give you a guideline anyway. The first one I used to make Levain bread a few years ago, and it’s amazing. While it’s slightly more complicated than the second, it yields good results. It also lasted a very long time until I ultimately did kill it when my refrigerator died. Cue ‘Taps.’

The benefits of using a starter? Well, for one, that sourdough taste. Two, once you’ve got a starter you don’t have to worry about having yeast on hand, your starter is all you need to make bread or pizza crust rise. Of course, that is if you desire that flavor. And once you have that bread made, you can even save a small piece of it and use that as a new starter. Once you start using a mother dough you can experiment with how much of it or how strong or “alive” it needs to be for your enjoyment. Some people say that you should feed it once every 8 hours for the three days leading up to baking. Others say as long as it smells okay and has bubbles it’s good to go. I assume this is a matter of taste, as I’ve done both methods and can’t say I ever had a problem with the taste or the rise of my bread.

Neither of these starters are better than the other, they’re just different. Try whichever one you want to start with, and if you like it, keep it up. No need to mess with a good thing!

SOURDOUGH STARTER A

Ingredients:

  • 3 packages active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water ( 105-115° degrees F)

Starter feed:

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons instant potatoes
  • 1 cup warm water (again, 105-115° degrees F)

Directions:

  1. To make the starter, mix the yeast and warm water in a small bowl. Put into a plastic container, seal, and refrigerate for 3-5 days.
  2. To make the starter feed, combine the sugar, potatoes, and water in a small bowl and stir into the starter. Cover loosely (to allow some of the pressure to escape as the gases build) and let stand at room temperature for 5-12 hours. The mixture will be bubbly.
  3. When ready, take out 1 cup to make bread and loosely cover the starter and return to the refrigerator. Feed again after 3-5 days. If not making bread after feeding the starter, take out 1 cup and discard it to avoid depleting the starter. NOTE: do not put the lid on tight.

SOURDOUGH STARTER B

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Directions:

  1. In a ceramic bowl, add warm water and yeast. Mix with wooden spoon until the yeast is dissolved.
  2. Stir in flour. Mix until smooth.
  3. Pour starter into a plastic container that is at least four times larger than the liquid amount of the starter. This is because the starter will expand. Cover with a cloth napkin or tea towel and hold in place with a rubber band.
  4. Set the starter in a warm spot for 5 days. Stir each day. Refrigerate and use as needed, at least once a week. Replenish every other day (aka “feed”) with equal amounts of water and flour (1/4 cup each is fine, even less works as long as it’s equal amounts). If you’re not baking, remember to throw out a cup every week to leave room. Again- DO NOT PUT THE LID ON TIGHT!

See, they’re not that hard.

What I did this time was I halved the above recipe (B) and used a glass quart-sized Ball jar with a bit of waxed paper (with holes poked in it) held on with a rubber band on the top. I also labeled it because my fridge is filled with all kinds of concoctions in jars, like flavored milks, and you don’t want anyone to be half-awake and take a gulp of this. So far I’ve just used it in the following bread recipe, but I found it to do the job. If you find your bread isn’t quite sour enough, you can add a bit more starter next time, or do a refrigerator extended fermentation using the dough once it’s made… but that’s a whole ‘nother story! And funny enough, I just so happened to screw it up! I didn’t feed it enough during the initial 3-5 day initial fermentation period, and it had to begin to eat itself so to speak. It smelled of alcohol- straight alcohol, like I was brewing beer. Not a faint white wine-ish smell, a complete & total brewery smell. Like the smell of a freshly poured pint of Sam Adams lager. So I decided to ditch it & start over. There are ways of fixing it but I didn’t want to be bothered. On the whole, a faint vinegar smell & an alcohol smell are just fine during certain points in the starter-creation process. Even the development of “hooch”, a dark-colored or clear liquid alcohol that forms on top of your starter, is totally normal. Some people just stir it back in, others pour it off. Generally speaking, a starter goes through a variety of odors before its fully going. Unless it smells like rotten eggs, a bottle of beer or has mold on it, you’re probably okay.

Double, double, toil and trouble… an active starter doing it’s thang

Also, just something to note: the firmer the starter, the more the acetic bacteria love it, and the wetter the starter the more the lactic bacteria love it. So if you’ve got a firmer starter, you’ll probably have more of an alcohol-y or vinegar-y smell than if you’ve got a really liquidy starter. And also, the firmer the starter, the more sour the bread will be.

You can only use a small amount like 1 tablespoon water/1tablespoon flour to feed the starter once it’s in the fridge & the growth slows. I’ve even gone days or weeks without feeding it and it’s still been alive & kickin’! However, if you feed it too little during the first few days of the fermentation period, you’ll get bad results. Take notes from my mistakes. Consistency during that time is key. And pretty much any container is fine- I’ve used Tupperware with plastic wrap & a rubber band on top, glass jars & Pyrex bowls. As long as it has room to grow & bubble it’s all good.

Note: different recipes will call for different amounts of your starter. Some will call for 2 cups, which might deplete or almost deplete your stash. That’s okay- just add more flour and water (EQUAL PARTS) and let it re-ferment, repeating the initial process. There’s no way to screw this up, I promise, unless you forget to feed it during the crucial first days, don’t feed it enough during those crucial first days or you make one & then your refrigerator dies in the height of a mid-September 95° F heat spell and you totally forget about it and it smells really weird & has a weird color growing on it by the time you get around to normal life again.

Not that I speak from experience or anything.

Also, make sure you feed your starter the day before you want to use it for baking. This is important, especially if you don’t feed your starter often or you’re forgetful. You want it all bubbly and alive when you use it so you get that really good flavor. I forget to do this sometimes and my bread turns out just fine, so don’t stress it, but if it’s been a LONG TIME since you’ve fed it, you might want to feed it once or twice before using it, just to make sure it’s healthy.

If you have any problems with your starter, I suggest checking this FAQ page. It’s got a lot of great information.

Now. Are you ready for a recipe to use up that smelly ol’ starter you just made? Good, ’cause here it is.

Panera, eat your f*cking heart out.

SOURDOUGH NO-KNEAD BREAD (adapted from a recipe at Breadtopia)

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 cups white bread flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup starter

Directions:

  1. Mix together the dry ingredients, then mix in the water until the water is incorporated. You can use a wooden spoon or your hands, or even a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook on low speed if you must. Place the dough in a bowl coated lightly with olive oil and cover the dough with plastic. Let sit for 12-18 hours (I usually go with 10-12 hours, 18 is a bit much) at room temperature.
  2. Unwrap the dough and fold it over onto itself once or twice. Recover loosely with plastic and rest for 15 minutes. Transfer to well floured towel, and sprinkle with flour. Cover with another towel and let rise about 1 1/2 hours.
  3. Transfer to a 6-8 quart French or Dutch oven, or ceramic/Pyrex container with a lid that’s been preheated to 450-500° F degrees, and bake covered for 30 minutes (before baking I sprinkled mine with poppy seeds). Then, remove cover and bake an additional 15 minutes.
  4. Let cool completely on rack.

It’s really that easy.

I swear.

Now you can use that delicious sourdough bread for grilled cheese sandwiches. Trust me, it’s insanely good.

Some folks have a bit of a problem with using starters in their bread, they find the dough is maybe too wet and won’t hold a shape. As long as it’s a general roundish shape, and not a completely flat pancake that won’t rise at all, you’ll get bread from it. The wetter your dough the larger the air holes in it, which I happen to like, so I prefer to find a happy medium with a not-so-stiff dough that still holds it’s shape well. It’s all about experimenting and trying things, and I have to say I never had an issue that turned out to be an inedible bread! Most mistakes are still edible, if not perfect. But this way you’ll know that next time, you’ll have to add a bit more flour during the beginning stages. Like buttercream, bread dough isn’t always an exact science. Sometimes you need more milk or sugar in buttercream, sometimes you need more flour in bread dough. As long as you get a good rise in the oven, what’s known as an “oven spring”, then it doesn’t matter that the dough is too wet or too spongy or too dry. Here’s a bit more info about wet/liquid vs. firm/stiff starters.

And also, the type of flour you use and even the type of water you use can make a difference in your dough, so you might need more flour or less flour than a recipe calls for. It isn’t a big deal, trust me.

Like I said: the wetter the dough pre-baking, the bigger the holes in the finished bread. So if you always wondered how to achieve that, it’s a higher water content in the mix that causes a really wet dough.

Bottom line: anyone can make bread, and anyone can make sourdough bread using a starter! It’s NOT that difficult. If you’re interested in making yeast-based bread, and/or experimenting with starters in different kinds of bread, there are quite a few recipes I’ve posted over the years. From bagels to beignets, to cinnamon rolls to basic French bread and sourdough. Some require stand mixers, some don’t, some use starters, some don’t. You can find them all at the Recipe Index, under “Breads and Rolls (yeast).”

Experiment, enjoy… and good luck!

How do I love thee, let me count the Le Creuset…

Whew. Things are absolutely crazy around here. I mean crazy busy. INSANE. I feel like I have no time to sit down, at all. I barely have time to figure out what to make for dinner, or to come up with interesting things to post for you guys. It’s as if I literally have no time for anything at all, but somehow I’m managing to maintain my blog; I guess that shows where my priorities are. For example, I had this bread slathered with butter for dinner the night after I made it because I hadn’t defrosted anything and was way too tired to make anything by the time I got around to even thinking about it. Never before now has that above sign been more appropriate. Dinner-making has gone from an every night thing to a few nights a week thing, and there’s been a lot of take-out. I’m really that busy & preoccupied.

But I had this  recipe bookmarked for years now, just waiting for the right time (and the right equipment) to make it. It’s a no-knead bread from Sullivan Street Bakery. Very easy, extremely delicious, and of course it’s all to show off my new LE CREUSET. Yes, that’s right. I said it.

Get ready, this is going to be long-winded.

See, there’s a story behind this. A few months back, right after New Year’s, after having had an exceptionally & spectacularly shitty week I made an executive decision:

I was getting myself a Le Creuset French oven.

To the uninitiated, this may not seem like such a big deal, or such a crazy decision. But for ONE single kitchen item that costs $300.00+, I assure you it is. So after crunching some numbers and assuring myself I was worth it & I deserved such a thing, I made the decision that I would finally get one. Like Lola, my KitchenAid stand mixer, it’s an investment piece. Not only does it improve my kitchen-witchery with all it’s benefits, but it’ll last forever. As in it’s entirely possible that generations from now my Le Creuset will be gracing the kitchen counter of one of my great-grandchildren. Yeah. It’s that serious. Plus it just looks beautiful.

Le Creuset was founded in the French town of Fresnoy-le-Grand, Aisne, Picardy, a strategic location at the crossroads of transportation routes for iron, coke and sand. Armand Desaegher (a casting specialist) and Octave Aubecq (an enameling specialist) opened their foundry in 1925. That same year, the first cocotte (or French Oven) was produced, laying the foundation for what is now an extensive range of cookware and kitchen utensils.

The Le Creuset signature color, Flame (orange) was born in this first piece. With their new ability to pigment the enamel glaze, Desaegher and Aubecq modeled their first color after the intense orange hue of molten cast iron inside a cauldron (“creuset” in French).

During World War II, Le Creuset began to focus on continually improving their cast iron. In 1939, Le Creuset launched the patented Doufeu, an oven containing the world’s first patented basting spikes that allow condensation to drip back into the food during cooking. In 1957, Le Creuset purchased a competitor, Les Hauts Fourneaux de Cousances, and began producing items such as a grill model and a fondue set.

In 1995 Le Creuset began exploring new product categories: stainless steel, stoneware, silicone, enamel on steel, textiles and forged hard-anodized aluminum.

The current Le Creuset logo was introduced in 1970 and was designed to be a symbolic representation of metal casting and molding. The company was purchased by current owner Paul Van Zuydam in 1987.

To manufacture their cast iron cookware, the Le Creuset foundry uses standard sand casting methods. After hand finishing, items are sprayed with at least two coats of enamel. The enamel becomes resistant to damage during normal use. Currently, all Le Creuset cast iron cookware is still manufactured in the company’s foundry in Fresnoy-le-Grand, where workers employ a 12 step finishing process implemented by 15 different pairs of hands to ensure that there are no flaws or imperfections in the final product.

-Wikipedia

I’ve wanted one for years, but I had a few problems. One, I kept spending the money on other things. And two, I couldn’t decide what color I wanted. In typical me fashion, I was drawn to black… but they didn’t have it anymore (they do in the U.K., however, and more than one kind of black, no less). They have a ton of colors- but I’m not a colorful girl. I like pink, yeah, but more often I’m drawn to black, gray, etc. My kitchen isn’t one that has Fiestaware or multicolored gadgets, & so a bright yellow, bright blue or bright green French oven just isn’t me. I’m not a Caribbean girl, or a Cherry girl, or a Soleil girl. I’m just not. Those colors are beautiful. But not ME. They also have white, and a color called Dune, which is a creamy off-white color. I wasn’t crazy about it, though. I mean- it’s a lovely color, but it didn’t have the WOW factor I was going for. But despite that, I was actually going to go with one of the two just because they were neutral and went with my kitchen, etc. And they also matched the set of mini cocottes I have. Truth be told? I really wanted pink; but Le Creuset doesn’t make pink, and the ones that they do make are so rare you can’t get your grubby little hands on them anywhere. Unless it’s this adorable little one. Or unless – and here’s the caveat- just like with the black color that’s long been discontinued in the U.S., you’ve gotta live in the U.K. to get it. And if you do, and you want to make me very, very happy… SEND ME A PINK LE CREUSET! Something. ANYTHING.

Kidding. Sorta. *cough* Anyway, then a few years back they introduced two new colors: Lilac (which I think is gone now) & Cassis. And immediately, I fell head over heels for the Cassis.

Named for the sweet black currant, Le Creuset’s CASSIS incorporates the nature-inspired shades found in aubergine and wild berries. Elegantly understated, CASSIS displays a warmth that complements soft-hued neutrals, and is one of today’s most sought-after colors.

Cassis is the French word for black currant which is a plant that produces dark purple berries, while purple has been a color associated with weath, luxury, and status throughout history.

If I have to get a color, and I can’t have pink? Well then I’m gonna get one that’s not too bright, but one that’s really beautiful and dark. One that looks like it could be almost black, but it isn’t. And so, I decided screw it. Screw matching shit. I love this color. And so yeah, I said I’d get the Cassis, when the time came for me to get one.

And that time was now.

So I went & I bought one. And the minute it arrived I sat on the floor, opened it, and just looked at it. I did the same thing when I first got my stand mixer, you know her as Lola. Sometimes, you just have to admire something before you use it. The color in the sunlight is a royal purple, like you see above. In regular light, it’s a deep, dark aubergine-type purple with a gradient. It’s beautiful.

And then, of course, once you’re done looking at it… you have to use it.

And what was I to make? How could I “break the seal” on this? What should the very first recipe I make be? I decided to go with something brainless. I originally tossed around all kinds of ideas; bœuf bourguignon, coq au vin, all those interesting French dishes, plus paella, stews and other assorted all-day meals. But I thought maybe I’d work up to those. Let’s just start with a super easy bread. Note: you need a Le Creuset French oven or some other 6-8 quart pot with lid to make this bread. Pyrex or a ceramic something or other with a lid will work too, although if you want a cast iron oven and don’t want to spend a lot, you can get Dutch ovens for a pretty decent price. Of course, I’m partial to my new love: Le Creuset.

Anyway, I know I just posted a bread last week. But give me a break, here. I know you’ll love this one. It’s very simple and it’ll blow you away!

SULLIVAN STREET BAKERY NO-KNEAD BREAD (from Jim Leahy, owner)

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 11/2 cups water
  • 1/4 teaspoon yeast
  • 11/4 teaspoon salt
  • olive oil (for coating)
  • extra flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal (for dusting)

Directions:

  1. Mix all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Add water and incorporate by hand or with a wooden spoon or spatula for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Lightly coat the inside of a second medium bowl (NOT aluminum or other reactive metal- only a glass or stainless steel bowl) with olive oil and place the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest 12 hours at room temperature (approx. 65-72°F).
  2. Remove the dough from the bowl and fold once or twice. Let the dough rest 15 minutes in the bowl or on the work surface. Next, shape the dough into ball. Generously coat a cotton towel with flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal; place the dough seam side down on the towel and dust with flour. Cover the dough with a cotton towel and let rise 1-2 hours at room temperature, until more than doubled in size. Preheat oven to 450-500°F.
  3. Place the pot in the oven at least 30 minutes prior to baking to preheat. Once the dough has more than doubled in volume, remove the pot from the oven and place the dough in the pot seam side up. Cover with the lid and bake 30 minutes Then remove the lid and bake 15-30 minutes uncovered, until the loaf is nicely browned.

Stunning! I think this was definitely the easiest bread ever. Seriously. Some breads require either a lot of steps & a starter, like the Levain, or they require a shit load of kneading, like the French bread I made way back when. This one has neither. Don’t get me wrong, the Levain is well worth the trouble, so is the French bread. But there are times you really don’t want to do all of that. I would assume, also, that you can use any flour you like; whole wheat, unbleached, etc. as well as top it with anything you like… seeds, oats, oat bran, etc. You could probably alter it to suit you with any kind of flavoring or herbs, too.

It would be fantastic in a grilled cheese sandwich, or for bruschetta (maybe when it gets hard). And it would also be great just toasted for breakfast, or with fresh jam.

I don’t know about using something like bran flour or coconut flour in it. I’d love for someone to try it & let me know, though! Pola, where are you? 

I’m sure you’ll be seeing a lot more of my new acquisition around here, since it’s good for everything from baking to making jam to roasting chicken & braising meat. This is just the beginning! If anyone has a great French oven recipe, feel free to leave it in the comments or e-mail me. I love new ideas. And here’s the deal: I know that some people will say that $300 for a French oven is extreme, or “decadent,” or crazy. I have a little something to say to those of you about that. See, I’ve had four or five hand mixers since 2008- all of them broke on me, except the last one, which is a $99 KitchenAid 9-speed digital model. And the other ones were NOT KitchenAid, and definitely not $99. One of them died mixing cheesecake, which is understandable. A hand mixer and cheesecake shouldn’t really mix. But the rest? One sputtered and slowed down during a batch of buttercream, and another one just didn’t start one day. Another had something rattling around inside of it after a few uses, which was not only unsettling in and of itself, but it smelled like burning plastic when I turned it on. Who knows what that even was. That’s just one small example, but let me say that now I’ve officially learned my lesson: sometimes, you really do just get what you pay for. And as far as Le Creuset vs. a cheaper model dutch oven goes, this post from the Local Kitchen explains it better than I can.

I’d rather pay a little more one time than pay less over & over again, regretting my decision. When your cheap(er) dutch oven gets chips in it within a month, and scratches n the inside enamel, & mine still looks brand new, we can talk about decadence; specifically how wasteful & decadent it is to buy a less expensive item more than once just to prove a point, rather than investing in one that costs more & lasts longer.

*Le Creuset in no way sponsored this post. All thoughts & opinions are my own, I was not provided with any products free of charge (I wish! But sadly not) and most certainly not in exchange for a positive review. This French oven was purchased by me and all comments in reference to it are mine. I do wish I could give you all a beautiful French oven of your own, but I’m not made of money. *wink*

Irish tea, bread & sympathy.

Coming from a family environment where my main grandparental influence came from my maternal grandparents, I’m pretty well versed in all things Irish (and German- but that’s another post). My grandmother Agnes was full-blooded Irish, second generation born in New York, and my grandpa was 1/4 Irish, 3/4 German. My grandpa passed away when I was very small, about 6 years old. But my grandmother was with me my whole childhood and young adult life. She passed away when I was 30, so I’d say that from her I got a full course in Irish-American tradition. Tea was a big part of this. My grandma drank tea all day. ALL DAY. She never drank coffee, not unless it was a fancy coffee once in a while after dinner, or an Irish coffee at one of her favorite Irish pub/restaurants that me & Jay used to take her to. My whole life, tea was a major player in everything. If you were sick- have a hot cup of tea with honey or lemon (or both). Sad? Have a hot cup of tea with milk & sugar. And in the summer, as expected, there was always iced tea.

The same can be said for Irish soda bread. I’ve made all different kinds, ate all different kinds, both homemade & store-bought. My favorite still remains; the Irish soda cake. I could eat it morning, noon & night. But I still come up with new ones to try, despite my allegiance. And this one is a recipe I tore out of Gourmet or Bon Appétit ages ago and never made. It’s from Downey’s in Philadelphia, and the addition of dark brown sugar intrigued me.

Soda bread (Serbian: česnica/чесница, Irish: arán sóide, Scots: fardel) is a variety of quick bread traditionally made in a variety of cuisines in which sodium bicarbonate (otherwise known as baking soda) is used as a leavening agent instead of the more common yeast. The ingredients of traditional soda bread areflourbread sodasalt, and buttermilk. The buttermilk in the dough contains lactic acid, which reacts with the baking soda to form tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide. Other ingredients can be added such as butter, egg, raisins or nuts.

In Ireland, the flour is typically made from soft wheat; so soda bread is best made with a cake or pastry flour (made from soft wheat), which has lower levels of gluten than a bread flour. In some recipes, the buttermilk is replaced by live yoghurt or even stout. Bakers recommend the minimum amount of mixing of the ingredients before baking; the dough should not be kneaded.

Various forms of soda bread are popular throughout Ireland. Soda breads are made using either wholemeal or white flour. In Ulster, the wholemeal variety is usually known as wheaten bread and normally sweetened, while the term “soda bread” is restricted to the white savoury form. In more southern parts of Ireland, the wholemeal variety is usually known as brown soda and is almost identical to the Ulster wheaten.

The Soda farl or “Griddle cakes”, “Griddle bread” (or “Soda farls” in Ulster) take a more rounded shape and have a cross cut in the top to allow the bread to expand. The griddle cake or farl is a more flattened type of bread. It is cooked on a griddle allowing it to take a more flat shape and split into four sections. The Soda Farl is one of the distinguishing elements of the Ulster Fry, where it is served alongside potato bread, also in farl form.[11]

MY VERSION OF DOWNEY’S IRISH SODA BREAD

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons, plus additional for dusting
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 sticks unsalted butter, softened and cut into pieces
  • 4 tablespoons well-shaken buttermilk at room temperature
  • 1 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425° F with rack in the middle. 
  2. Blend flours, brown sugar, baking soda, salt and butter in a large bowl with a pastry blender or your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal.
  3. Stir in buttermilk and eggs until smooth dough forms. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and divide into small round individual loaves (I got four). Space them evenly on a lightly floured baking sheet. Sprinkle with flour, and cut an X in the top of each loaf with a sharp knife.
  4. Bake 20 minutes, then reduce oven to 375° F and continue to bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 15 minutes.
  5. Transfer loaves to a rack to cool. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with butter, creme fraiche, marmalade or jam.
  6. Bread is best the day it’s made, but can be frozen. Just wrap it tightly in 2 layers of foil and freeze no longer than one month. Refresh, wrapped in foil in a 325° oven until heated through, about 20 minutes.

 

This recipe can be made into one large, round loaf or doubled and made into either three long “baguette” style loaves or two large round loaves.

You can feel free to add raisins (or Jameson soaked raisins) or caraway seeds, if you wish. I come from a family that happens to prefer it plain, as do I, so I rarely if ever add anything to it. It’s best, like stated above, the same day. But I wrapped it in foil and reheated it slightly the next day & it was perfect. Also, it’s just personal preference as to what to serve with it. If you’re having it with a meal, then butter is the norm. If you’re serving it with tea or coffee or as a snack, then jam, orange marmalade, clotted cream or creme fraiche is good. But it’s great plain too.

And I must say, as much as my old standby recipe is my favorite, this one was really, really good too. If you never found a soda bread you like.. I suggest you try making some of your own, that way you can tweak it and add or subtract the elements you want to. You just might end up a fan.