Vegetarian Concoctions

March 29, 2007

Bread sticks

Filed under: Basil, Breads, Cheese, Garlic, Snacks and Appetizers — Hema @ 11:04 am

Horrible horrible week. The past week was sick….literally. First the kiddo, then me and then H. The only silver lining was that all of us did not fall sick at the same time. Getting better was no fun either. Disinfecting three whole baskets of laundry and cleaning up the mess we called our home took up another 3 days. I was dragging myself to work in the morning. Getting back home in the evening was worse…just thinking of all the work that lay waiting. If this was not enough, TEAM-INDIA added to our misery*. We played against Sri Lanka and the rest is history that I hope will never be repeated again. It took me quite some time to digest the fact that we did’nt even make it to the top eight teams. Half way through our innings I switched off the TV. What a shame!

What better way to vent out my anger and frustration than cooking?…and thats what I did. Baking, actually. Since my sourdough bread success story, I have been tempted to experiment with various breads and bread sticks seemed to be the simplest to start off with. I had made some a week earlier and they turned out soft and delicious. Here is my second attempt captured for records:

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What you need:

All-purpose flour – 2 1/2 – 3 cups

White unsalted butter – 1/2 stick (4 tablespoon)

Commercial yeast – 2 tsp

sugar – 1 tsp

Salt – about 1 1/2 tsp

Water – as required

Cheese sticks:
Cheddar cheese – 1/2 cup

Garlic sticks:
Garlic – 1 clove
Garlic salt and dried basil to garnish

Combine sugar and yeast in warm water and let rest for about 10 mts till bubbly. Add the flour, salt and butter. The butter should be at room temperature and softned when added. Incorporate the butter into the flour with your hands and then add enough water to get a soft and workable dough but not sticking to your hands while kneading(see tip 1 below). Add extra flour if needed. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes while pushing the dough away from you with your palms. Brush some olive oil on it and let this rise for about 1 1/2 – 2 hrs in a warm place till it doubles in size (tip 2). Punch back the dough and now add your flavourings (tip 3). I made two kinds: cheese and garlic. To half the dough I added shedded cheddar cheese and to the other half minced garlic. Then I shaped them into sticks and garnished the garlic one with garlic salt and dried basil. You can really get creative with the flavors and shapes here. I placed the sticks on baking trays 3-4 inches apart and let the dough rise one last time – about 1 – 1 1/2 hrs (tip 4). This went into a 375 degrees preheated oven for about 25 minutes till the crust is golden brown. Brush some butter on the crust as soon as they come out of the oven (tip 5) and serve with your favourite soup or marinara sauce.

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With the few tips I learnt about bread making from an expert bread-maker, I guess I should send it to Sushma’s Monthly cooking tipology:

1. After the rise, the bread gets softer and hence stickier. So, the dough should not be too soft when you knead it in the first place.

2. If you don’t have a pilot lamp or a light in your oven or a warm corner in your kitchen to help rise your dough, you could place the dough in a small enclosure close to a saucepan with boiling water. This also helps in keeping the crust soft.

3. Some herbs and spices seem to inhibit growth of yeast. Hence, it is best to incorporate the flavors in the bread during the last rise.

4. The more number of times you punch back your bread and let it rise again, the finer will be the pores in your bread. If you want your bread to have big pores, just let the dough rise once and bake.

5. If you want a soft crust, like our bread sticks here, always brush the crust with molten butter as soon as they come out of the oven. If you want the crust to be hard/crisp, like in sourdough bread, skip the butter on the crust.

*CRICKET – the sport. The ICC world cup games are on in West Indies.

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February 13, 2007

Sourdough bread

Filed under: All-Purpose flour, Baking, Breads — Hema @ 11:00 am

It was a cold, lazy weekend afternoon early last year. The little one was happily tucked away into her blanket for a nap and dear hubby was watching football. I was flipping through one of the baking books I had bought recently and a recipe caught my attention – Sourdough bread. We both love this bread and always bought it from the store. Can it be made at home? Then, began an extensive research for methods and ingredients on the internet.

What I found was quite fascinating. You mix all-purpose flour and water and leave it in a warm open place for a few days with frequent monitoring. The batter picks up yeast and bacteria from the environment, starts bubbling and turns sour. This would be the starter. The quality of a starter would depend on where you live and whether the batter picks up the right guys. San-Francisco starters are supposed to be the best. Also, once someone has a starter going, it is fed periodically and kept alive for a long, long time – for generations sometimes.

I tried. The first time, nothing happened. February was a cold month (Yeah! sometimes, even in Florida) and so, I decided to wait for the spring. I gave it another shot in March. This time it looked like things were happening and I saw some bubbles on day 3. It was exciting! I added half a cup of all-purpose flour and warm water everyday, for the next 4 days. It got bubblier. It was time to try out my very own bread….or so I thought! I mixed more flour, sugar, salt and waited for it to rise to twice its size. I waited, waited and waited even more! It rose but not to the extent described in the cookbooks and internet sites. With a heavy heart I punched it back in for the second rise. Waited for 3 more hours for the rise and baked it. What came out was a shame. The crust was too thick, the inside was no-where close to being called soft and the taste…I had…ahem…added a little too much salt.

Totally frustrated with my first attempt, I put off the thought of baking bread for a while. I still kept the starter alive for a few more months. It was not before June, that I made my second unsuccessful attempt and dumped my starter in disgust and decided not to venture into the bread making business anymore.

Then, in September,  THIS happened! I read through the post at least 3 times before I left a comment. Few days later, she baked her first biscuits. Now, this was exciting. I left another comment and she replied ‘Thanks, Hema! If you want to give it a shot, I’m more than happy to pass along some starter anytime’. Really? I wrote back to her with my mailing address and sure enough received this package with some dried starter and a lovely little note with instructions. She actually took time and dried some starter for me. Yes, she is our very own ‘Out of the wor…garden – Linda!’.

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Thanks Linda! You are awesome!
I stored the dry starter in the refrigerator for over two months before I got a chance to get working with it. I followed Linda’s instructions and pretty soon the starter was bubbling with activity.

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A day before I decided to take the plunge, I added a cup of flour and half a cup of warm water to the starter. Next morning, I took a cup of starter for the bread and stored the rest in the refrigerator. With it went in ½ tsp sugar and 1 tsp salt. Then, I cheated (blush). Well, you see I have had horrible sourdough experiences in the past and really wanted soft bread this time. So, I added some commercial yeast…just a pinch, actually (blush, blush). Dissolved it in a tbsp of warm water and added it to the dough after 5 minutes. Then I added flour(about 1 cup), one spoon at a time till the consistency felt right – soft and workable, but not sticking to your hands. I brushed some olive oil on it and let it rise in a warm place (oven with lights on).

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It rose to twice its size in about 2 hours! YAY! I punched it back in and this time put it into my loaf pan for the second rise. 2 hours later, I made a slash on the top and popped it into the 425 F preheated oven for 8 minutes and then reduced the temperature to 375 F and baked it further for another 20 minutes till the crust turned golden brown.

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Out came my precious bread, with my home smelling like a bakery:) I let it cool and gave hubby the honour of cutting my first bread and taking this picture.

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It was soft and tasted almost like what we get at stores..a little less sour, but that maybe because of the extra yeast I added. Now, I can proudly say baking bread is not a big deal’. Thanks Linda. Could’nt have done it without your help.

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