Happiness is baking bread


My best friend tends to spoil me for Christmas and my birthday (just one of many reasons to love her!).  This past birthday, she sent me not one giant box of goodies but two!  She has been avidly following my exploits here on this blog and she knows how much I have been enjoying my bread baking adventures.  The first box of goodies was a box with a bread-baking theme.  The second box of goodies was more kitchen items and food with a gorgeous bird theme.  (She knows how much I have loved birds all of my life).  Getting back to the bread themed box (since I am so single minded and although everything she sent was wonderful, I have been dreaming about using the stuff in the bread themed box for weeks), it contained a banneton, a lame’, a bag of really fine artisan bread flour and the cookbook Local Breads by Daniel Leader.  As I said, I have been itching to use all of these things since the box arrived in September but I haven’t had the time or the energy to devote to a day or two of bread baking.  I have been sick with a cold for the past several days so after going out to run a couple of errands Saturday morning, all I wanted to do was stay close to home and rest.  Bread baking is a calming experience; with lots of waiting for things to happen so I decided it would be a good activity to incorporate into a day of rest.


While I was out during the morning, I stopped into a local ethnic and specialty foods market.  I had no reason to stop there other than to buy a couple of goodies but while I was there I stumbled onto a brand of flour that Daniel Leader recommended in the Local Breads book.  It is Giustos and the company is in the bay area so the idea of getting a high quality and fairly local product was very appealing to me.  It was a bag of semolina flour.  Although the idea of making fresh pasta with some good semolina is attractive to me, I had been keeping my eye out for semolina for the myriad of different bread recipes I keep bumping into that call for it.  I snapped it up.


A quick search of one of my favorite blogs for bread baking, Wild Yeast, reminded me that there was a fantastic bread that I saw there last year that I remembered I wanted to try.  I was really hoping to use the banneton that R. gave me, but I was a little scared to try a new procedure, a new flour and have to figure out how to tweak the baking time for a loaf or loaves instead of baguettes when I was already omitting the yeast in the recipe and relying on my poor abused and neglected sour dough starter for that yeast.  The banneton would have to wait.  I did however use the lame’ and the results were wonderful.  I have been using a sharp paring knife to slash my loaves and the lame’ definitely made a cleaner, straighter cut.  I love using it.


Now because I am still tired from this cold and I didn’t make too many changes to Susan’s recipe, I will link to it at Wild Yeast:  It is called Semolina Bread with Fennel Currants and Pine Nuts.  Here is what I did differently:

  1. In an updated post, Susan suggests toasting the pine nuts.  I did and you should too to give them more flavor.
  2. I omitted the instant yeast and used 3 more grams of starter.  It was chilly in the house and the starter wasn’t as strong as it would have been with the help of the instant yeast so my first fermentation increased from 1 ½ hours to more like 3 ½ hours but the steps for the rest after dividing the loaves and the proofing step took the same time.
  3. I forgot to turn down my oven as she instructs so I turned it down after about fifteen minutes of baking.  The bread turned out fine, could be a difference between my bad old oven and hers.

If you love bread, I encourage you to try this recipe.  These baguettes had to be the best bread I have baked thus far.  The texture was much more rustic and chewy than a normal sourdough with a wonderful flavor from the semolina flour.  The crust was crispy.  The bread had a wonderful sweetness that went well with the bean and butternut squash soup we ate last night and I think it will even go well with some Indian food I intend to make tonight.  I also encourage you to look for good quality flour.  This was the first time that I had really good flour and it seems to have made a world of difference.  The bread tasted very professional. 



Sweet and Savory

I have to admit to debauchery this week.  It was my boyfriend’s birthday and we planned to travel and with travel for us comes eating.  We started out by driving to the Pasadena area to visit the Huntington Gardens.  The gardens were gorgeous and we made sure to see the lovely new Chinese garden as well as the Greene and Greene exhibit of craftsman furniture. But… we also stopped for tea at the rose garden tea room where tea is not the dainty thing a Victorian party would leisurely sit and pick at but an all you can eat extravaganza of tea sandwiches, scones, caviar, spreads and cheese, oh and really good tea.  The next day, we drove to Cambria and visited Hearst Castle for the evening tour but we spent two nights there and ate and drank to our hearts content.  It was a lovely time but I was very, very bad.


I would like to say that once we got home, I got back onto the healthy eating program, but I didn’t.  Not right away anyway.  Today we finally went grocery shopping where I found a wonderful fillet of Steelhead Salmon to go with some rainbow chard that I already had in my crisper.  I went to the Epicurious site to see if I could find something delicious but healthy and I found just the right things. 

The Salmon recipe called for making a glaze of honey, coarse grain Dijon mustard and crushed caraway seeds.  The glaze is broiled onto the salmon.  As the salmon cooks, the broiler heat caramelizes the glaze into a chewy, sweet and savory but flowery glaze that is just heavenly.  Here is a link to the recipe.  You must try this yourself!

The chard recipe calls for both the stems and leaves of the chard, which somehow makes me feel virtuous, like I am not wasting a bit of this delectable vegetable.  Redolent with garlic, the fruity sweetness of the currants and the tangy saltiness of a fine goat feta that I used, this was a remarkable side dish to go along with my salmon.  Go here for the chard recipe.


All in all, this meal was a winner.  I rounded it out with hot chewy short grain brown rice.  It was the kind of meal that feels decadent but really is virtuous and when you know you are taking care of yourself while pampering yourself, it is fine indeed.