Tag Archives: bread

Your Neighborhood Bakery

With the cold winter months quickly approaching, now is the time to soak up the mild weather and take advantage of the spots that are easily accessible from campus.  After a long day full of classes and other commitments, I find myself in need of a way to unwind, without paying subway fares or venturing too far away from Barnard.  A walk to the local Silver Moon Bakery & Cafe, located on 105th and Broadway, provides an opportunity to explore the neighborhood (and the exercise to use as an excuse for buying many pastries).

The exterior of the bakery
The exterior of the bakery

The blue awning and outdoor seating of the bakery provides an inviting welcome to the space, and you feel right at home before you even step inside.  Once I walked in, the excitement of being in a new bakery hit me once again.  I immediately walked straight to the pastry display case, to drool over the wide variety of pies, cakes, and pastries, with everything from apple pie to chocolate mousse and blueberry ginger muffins.  I was so focused on choosing the perfect dessert that it took me a few minutes to see the shelves piled high with breads of every shape and size.

Pastries on display
Pastries on display

From baguettes to boules to rolls, Silver Moon Bakery handcrafts all of its breads, ensuring freshness and variety.  Though I knew an entire loaf of bread was a strange item to take back to my dorm room (Editor’s note: is it, though? ), the appeal of the sourdough boule convinced me that it was worthwhile.  A feeling of contentment spread over me as I left the bakery, now armed with a berry tart and my very own sliced loaf of bread.  Paired with a hazelnut spread I bought later, the bread was the perfect combination of a crunchy outer crust and a chewy inside and just what I needed to get through the rest of my homework.

My bread in all of its glory
My bread in all of its glory
My delicious fruit tart, reminiscent of summer days
My delicious fruit tart, reminiscent of summer days

 

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Paris is Just a Train Ride Away

Although I knew the 1 line could take me all over Manhattan, I had no idea that it could also transport me to Paris. That is, until I stepped into Maison Kayser. Nestled in Columbus Circle, this authentic French boulangerie uses traditional techniques to craft fresh pastries and desserts baked on site daily. French baker Eric Kayser opened his first New York boulangerie on the Upper East Side, and the high demand for his impeccable desserts resulted in more Maison Kayser locations opening across the city.

My first view of the boulangerie
My first view of the boulangerie

Walking into Maison Kayser – and out of the torrential downpour outside – felt like walking into heaven. Vibrant and delicate desserts were painstakingly arranged behind a glass case, and a variety of fresh baguettes and loaves covered an entire wall. The women working behind the register actually had to ask me if I was ready because I spent such a long time staring at the pastries in front of me.

The gorgeous display at Maison Kayser
The gorgeous display at Maison Kayser

Eventually, I decided upon the tarte au chocolat, brioche au sucre, and pain au chocolat aux amandes. The tarte was composed of a chocolate shell filled with a rich chocolate cream and topped with a truffle, also known as the chocolate lover’s ultimate dream.  Brioche is a light and airy French bread, and mine was covered with large bits of sugar.  My last purchase was a traditional French pastry, reinvented by combining chocolate with a thick almond paste inside a delicate pastry shell.  All three of my desserts melted in my mouth and transported me to a picnic along the River Seine in Paris.

A decadent tarte au chocolat
A decadent tarte au chocolat
Brioche au sucre and pain au chocolat aux amandes
Brioche au sucre and pain au chocolat aux amandes

Experiencing the quality of the pastries at Maison Kayser is an easy alternative to purchasing an expensive plane tickets to France, and I cannot wait to jump back on the 1 train and do it all over again.

The breads and pastries
The breads and pastries

Bagels alla Turca!

A bakery with multiple locations around the city, Simit + Smith is one place that’s been on my bucket list for quite some time because its namesake bakery item is a delicious bagel-like bread served in Turkey and the Levant, called simit. Simit is made in the same way as a bagel is (boiled in water and then baked) and has a similar round shape, but it is more like a ring than a fat bun with a tiny whole in the middle, and it is topped with lots of sesame seeds.

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You could have cream cheese and lox with your simit at Simit + Smith, but this morning I opted for the more traditional kasseri cheese with tomatoes, cucumbers, and olive tapenade. Heaven. I was instantly transported back home. The simit bread itself was crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. It had a hint of sweetness that was cut through by the savory goodness of the sesame seeds. The tomatoes and cucumbers were fresh and the kasseri cheese salty and rich. A great alternative for kasseri cheese would have been labne, the tart, creamy yoghurt of the Middle East, but they did not offer it at the bakery. Hmmm… Home-made simit and labne? Worth a try!

Greatly recommended for a fresh, somewhat healthier, and definitely much tastier alternative to the bagel and cream cheese breakfast.

Simi+ Smith

Upper West Side

124 W. 72nd St. New York, NY 10023

 

Worth Street

111 Worth St. New York, NY 10023

 

Financial District

100 William St. New York, NY 10038

 

A Food Lover’s Guide to History: The Earl-y Sandwich

It’s the day after Thanksgiving, meaning that if you’re among the 65% of Americans who claim that eating leftovers is the best part of the holiday, then you might be thinking about (or making) the celebrated “pilgrim sandwich,” also known as the Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich.  But I ask you to tear your eyes off the glistening cranberries, the thyme-scented mashed potatoes, and the bounty of other leftovers.  I ask you to consider the sandwich.

The venerable Earl of Sandwich

Pretty much everyone knows about John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who was so absorbed in his gambling that he needed something he could eat without leaving his game.  But sandwiches as a form go back to the 1st Century B.C.E., when the famed rabbi Hillel the Elder started a Passover custom of sandwiching a portion of the Paschal lamb and bitter herbs between two matzohs, based on a verse in the Book of Exodus.

Later, Medieval Europeans started putting food on bread out of necessity rather than spirituality.  Much like the pie crusts of old, bread acted as dishes for Europeans in the Middle Ages.  They called their thick chunks of stale bread “trenchers” and then piled them with meats, gravies, and other sauces.  After the meal, the softened bread was either eaten or tossed to dogs or the poor.

Pictured above: actual historical peasants

So while the Earl of Sandwich didn’t invent the concept of using bread as a vehicle for other foods, he did lend it his name.  However, up until the first written record of the word “sandwich” in 1762, the stack of bread and fillings was known, hilariously, as “bread and meat” or “bread and cheese.”

Bread and Meat and Vegetables.

They made the leap across the pond, and by 1816, recipes appeared calling for fillings like fruit, shellfish, nuts, and mushrooms.  By the turn of the century, sandwiches were differentiated based on their ingredients, like the double-decker club sandwich or the BLT.

One of the most important developments in modern sandwich history came in the late 1920s. In 1928, Otto Rohwedder built a loaf-at-a-time bread slicing machine.  Later, bread slicers could wrap the loaves as well, making it possible to package and sell pre-sliced loaves of bread.

The Chillicothe Baking Company installed Rohwedder’s bread slicer and began to sell “Kleen Maid Sliced Bread” on July 7, 1928.

All this innovation culminated in 1930, when Wonder Bread started marketing their pre-sliced bread nation-wide.  Kids could safely make their own sandwiches without having to use a bread knife, and the ease of the sandwich made them a fixture in American kitchens and lunchrooms across the country.

Speaking of fixtures in American food history…

I’ll let you get back to your turkey.

Not that you need any instruction, but here’s a Martha Stewart-approved leftover sandwich recipe for inspiration:

Ingredients

  • Baguette 
  • Cranberry sauce 
  • Grainy mustard 
  • Sliced turkey 
  • Glazed pearl onions 

Direction

Spread one half of a piece of baguette with cranberry sauce and the other with grainy mustard.

Layer with sliced turkey and glazed pearl onions.

 

The Search for a Good Baguette in NYC

This week we’d like to introduce you to a true crisis: the search for some good BREAD in NYC. It’s a problem that is intercultural, because once you’ve tasted French bread and tasted the central role it plays in everyday life, its hard to go back. Sometimes, American bread just never seems to get the job done anymore, and as two bread enthusiasts we’re on the search to find the best Boulangerie near us! Here’s a little anecdote to explain our sorrows:

                      Girl Meets and Leaves Bread: A Tale of Two Countries

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Jeanne: A Girl meets cracker and cheese first time.

“Last week, I went to a conference where they had a classy buffet with wine and cheese (I swear I didn’t know, that’s not why I attended this lecture). There, I had one of those moments when you hold on for a second, put your whole life in perspective, and ask the metaphysical question, where am I? In my case, the answer was: you’re in a country where they serve crackers with cheese. That’s right – crackers, not bread. My whole system of beliefs was shaken down. So, yes, writing this article was a kind of self-therapy for me.”

One of my first realizations upon arriving in France was that le “cracker” doesn’t exist. This was quite problematic especially when I found myself with an urge to consume large amounts of French cheese. So where did my American instincts lead me? I tried to replace the cracker’s duty with that of the rather bland, brioche toasts found in French supermarkets. Warning: this results in a very unpleasant combination. However, contrarily to what we may think, the cracker is somewhat of a fake in its relationship to cheese, as it actually has an original predecessor. Turns out, cheese’s true lover is that of bread and always has been across the Atlantic.

Point in case, French bread has had an immense impact upon both of us and we’re facing a “struggle” of finding good bread in the USA, nevertheless the culinary hub of NYC. So what is one to do?

“Finding good bread is totally possible in NYC because the city has so many various culinary resources. The only thing though is that, you have to work for it: literally it’s expensive and you have to do some research (or lucky you, just read this article!) to find a good place. Coming from France, I naively went to the first top-quality supermarket in the area and discovered that their “French baguette” was neither French or a real baguette. Go to a proper bakery that is known for its bread and be prepared to spend some money.”

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First, let’s go back a few steps here: why do we care about bread and how is it any different from Whole Foods 12 grains pre-sliced loaf?

Bread, amongst its food compatriots requires a very precise & mathematical precision that sometimes, like meringue-whisperers, is mastered by baker’s special techniques based on experience and tricky intuition. It’s a lot more than just its ingredients – flour, water, salt, and yeast – its a PROCESS! Basically, there is first the “pre-fermentation” starter, ou en français le “poolish,” where ingredients are weighed to specific measurement, combined, and the “leavening” process begins – this is where we make or break the bread because it’s all about the natural yeast we’re creating here. This is where those luscious bubbles and sourdough/any sort of flavor are going to be created, and without it the bread won’t develop its shape, texture or flavor. The poolish becomes your pet as you have to keep feeding it before you can start to use the damn thing (trust me the smelly jar occupies a seemingly permanent place on my countertop it seems.) Here, some bakers even “cheat” and add malt powder to speed this “feeding” process up.

Next, poolish + exact dry ingredients are going to finally get you a dough, where once again things get tricky. Now many of you may be familiar with a bread machine or dough hook- but here’s the thing, lots of bread bakers emphasize the key in “hand- kneading.” A good bread maker has “kneading instinct” – that is hand kneading ensures that air bubbles are not destroyed, the bread’s pigments might possibly change, and while its putting the “art” back in ensuring tasty “artisanal quality.”

Fast forward through a lengthy – sometimes 16 hours – rising process, where bakers adjust exact temperatures, “knocking” processes (that is deflating risen dough), and intricate shaping processes. And finally, a PIPING hot oven completes this delicate process (450 degrees & above) where the loaf finally takes shape and achieves its crispy crust and rich color. So bread is an odd one because unlike cooking you can’t “eyeball” any ingredients here and similar to baking, innovation and perfected skill are part of intense familiarity with exact measurements of ingredients and temperatures that must work in certain ways.

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Ok so now we get it: bread is really complicated to make an requires a real professional skill. BUT why are we freaking out about FRENCH bread withdrawals?

America has some really great bread bakers too, just read about what some of those sourdough guys over in San Francisco right now – America isn’t totally off the bread wagon right? While here, like the cracker, we’ve come into the food story a little bit late. French bread is and has been a pretty special deal, after all UNESCO Heritage even protects French baguettes as “intangible cultural heritage”! Bread places a quintessential role in the French person’s daily life – rather than getting their morning “coffee-run” in (which no worry they too are caffeine addicts!), everyone has to get their morning boulangerie run in for fresh baked baguettes!

In America do we really have distinct cultural conception of bread? Doesn’t a bagel, pizza dough, or for some even, the cracker, come to mind when you think of bread? Why are we carbohydrate-fearing people today when we’re like sandwich capital? Health conscious eaters we are today, we’ve been scared by preservative & chemical breads like the classic “Wonder bread” of the 50’s. It seems that today in America, we have a fear negative conception of “white bread.”

Q: French “Daily Bread”, Fact or Fiction? JEANNE PARLE:DSC_0669

Bread is really important from breakfast (even crucial in this case) to dinner. Someone has to “acheter le pain.” When, for some reason, there is no bread on the table, you have to argue about whose fault it is and in most cases, the youngest have to run to the corner bakery and buy whatever is left there. Storing bread is also an issue, because a baguette can be the most delicious thing on Monday, on Tuesday evening you won’t be happy with it if it’s still there… That’s one of the reasons why I gave up proper bread this year and opted for classic sandwich bread instead. It’s way more simple and honestly, it’s not the same thing at all, but it does the trick (N.B: any French person reading this would want to hurt me for having said that).

 

Our suggestion? 

Maison Kayser. 1800 Broadway, Columbus Circle

*Top Parisian baker, found in various NYC locations. Just hop on down to Columbus Circle for some quality pain! New location to even open on 89th soon!

Here we’re going to leave you with our suggestion of NYC’s best “French boulanger.” Kayser, takes pride in its ingredients- a secret poolish recipe- and traditional craft! You can just SPOT a crusty good baguette through Kayser’s flour stacked shelves and he’s currently offering some delicious savory Fall flavors like nutty pumpkin, a must try! We sampled a traditional baguette en epis (perfect for ripping off portioned rolls amongst friends!) and a baguette sarasin (buckwheat flour).

His traditional baguettes are highly recommended, the sarasin we can’t say the same for, but his baguette aux ceréales (grains) is INFALLIBLE! Crisp, crunchy, soft but pliable, enormous air bubbles, not sour. Look, taste, texture, Kayser gives you a loaf you can eat without any sandwich accompagnements, delicious on its own, and even better spooned with simple honey and tea on a Fall afternoon. They’re recreating parisian prices and snarky service but hey its part of the experience!

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Fun fact: Le Demi-Baguette Option- Did you know in France, you can buy HALF a baguette! How much should a Baguette cost in France? About 1 euro.

The Solution to Good Bread:

1. It’s pricey but keep it Artisan based, bread is a tricky business – especially when it comes to Baguettes!

2.  You CAN spot a “good baguette” – crisp, weighty texture, even dispersion of large (hand created) air bubbles, light & slightly chewy, and rich color. How to train your expertise? Go to France and eat LOTS OF BREAD!

3. Never forget, bread was meant for cheese. It is versatile in its many uses that we sandwich lovers sometimes forget. Vive le pain!

4. There’s a lot of hype around the “baguette” mania- there’s some truth to that obsession but moreover keep in mind that the French place so much emphasis around their bread for a quite obvious reason; IT’S DELICIOUS!

PARIS BOULANGERIE SUGGESTIONS:

Polâine, the GOD of Sourdough…and you can even carry these tasty loaves right back on your way through customs back on home to America!

http://www.poilane.com/pages/en/company_boutiques.php

 

Helpful Links!

Paris Baguette Tips:

http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2007/08/baguettes/

http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2012/05/how-to-find-a-good-baguette-in-paris

Bread Recipes:

https://food52.com/blog/9376-chad-robertson-s-5-essential-tips-for-baking-bread?from_related=1&related_src_type=post

Great Bread Cookbooks:

Dough: Simple Contemporary Breads, Richard Bertinet

(seriously probably the BEST French to English boulanger!)

Lost in Translation – France

This summer, I picked up a copy of Julia Child’s “My Life in France.” Engrossed by her tales of fearless cooking, I tried to imagine what it must have been like learning to cook in a foreign country, in a language not your own.  Later, as I was browsing through my cookbook collection this summer, I happened upon the baking book I had picked up in France.  I flipped through, realizing how rusty my French had become, and then my twisted mind thought, what if I tried to use this cookbook without a translation?  Thus, an idea was born: I would try to cook from a foreign language recipe without translating it and just working off my best hunches.  Italian food in Italian, Spanish tapas en español… what have I gotten myself into?

I’ll admit, I went easy on myself for this first foray into cooking sans subtitles.  I decided to try a French recipe, since I’ve taken French in the past.  And what could be more classic than French bread?  It started with a trip to Fairway in the rain – hardly an auspicious kickoff to my adventure.  I looked over the copy of the recipe I brought: numbers one and two on the list of ingredients were farine de seigle and farine blanche.  I knew farine blanche – white flour.  But seigle?  I resisted the urge to google translate, and grabbed a bag of “all-purpose” flour, figuring that all-purpose should cover both blanche and seigleSucre roux I figured was brown sugar, and levure de boulanger déshydratée just had to be yeast.  Overall, aside from the little flour speed bump which I’m sure destroys any credibility I may have among serious bakers, gathering supplies was relatively simple.

I can practically hear the francophones reading this and hollering “RYE!”  Yes, as I later found out, seigle means rye, so the bread I made was more “pillsbury’s finest” than anything French.  Oh well.  To that, I reply with one of the few phrases I can remember: C’est la vie.

Armed with my kitchen scale, since the measurements were all by weight, I set about making a vastly-underprepared mess of myself in my Hartley kitchen.  I squinted at my recipe and ran into the second roadblock in translation: cuil. à café.  I was pretty sure cuil. Was an abbreviation for spoon, but what sort?  Teaspoon?  Tablespoon?  I went with the assumption that teaspoon got translated across the Atlantic into coffee spoon, and hoped for the best.  Next step: “Mélanger de façon à bien amalgamer le tout plus pétrir jusqu’a obtention d’une pâte qui se détache des parois de la casserole…” Ok, so I was lost after mélanger de façon à bien amalgamer, but, undaunted, I kneaded away and then let the ball of dough rest while I went to a lecture.

Two hours later, I returned to a big ball of dough that had “doublé de volume,” so I guess everything worked out all right with the whole mélanger bit.  The recipe called for an oven preheated to 190 degrees Celsius.  I figured that burning down my dorm in a cooking translation experiment wouldn’t exactly endear me to the university; anyways, converting measurements isn’t exactly translation, is it?  So I set the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and popped the whole big boule in the oven to bake.  An hour later my bread emerged from the oven piping hot, apparently solid as a rock, and sporting a large crack along the edge that made it look like an eyeless whale.

After a bit of cooling, my suite-mates and I dug on.  The loaf was actually quite chewy on the inside, reminiscent of an enormous soft pretzel, with just a hint of the sea salt I borrowed from my neighbor.  The crust, however, was extremely thick and crunchy.  I couldn’t decide if this was particularly good bread, but most of it was eaten by the next day, so I’ll mark this attempt as a success.  Nothing was burned, nobody was poisoned, and I never even touched Google translate.  Voila!

Pain de Seigle 

450g de farine de seigle

225 g de farine blanche

un peu plus pour soupoudrer

2 cuil a café de sel

2 cuil a café de sucre roux

1 ½ cuil a café de levure de boulanger déshydratée

425 ml d’eau tiède

2 cuil. a café d’huile, un peu plus pour graisser

 

  1. Taniser les farines, et le sel danse une jaffe, ajouter le sucre et le levure et mélanger.  Creuser un puits au centre et verser l’huile et l’eau.
  2. Mélanger de façon à bien, amalgamer le tout plus pétrir jusqu’a obtention d’une pâte qui se détache des parois de la casserole.  Pétrir la pate 10 minutes sur un plan de travail farine, jusqu’a ce qu’elle soit homogène et élastique
  3. Enduire d’huile les parois d’une jatte.  Façonner la pate en boule, la mettre et dans la jatte et couvrir.  Laisser lever 2 heures près d’une source de chaleur, jusqu’a ce que la pate ait double de volume.
  4. Huiler une plaque de four.  Pétrir de nouveau la pate 10 minutes sure un plan légèrement farine.
  5. Façonner la pâte en boule, la mettre sur la plaque et couvrir.  Laisser lever encore 40 minutes près dune source de chaleur jusqu’a ce qu’elle ait double de volume.
  6. Pendant ce temps préchauffer le four a 190 degrés C.
  7. Cuire le pain 40 minutes au four préchauffé.
  8. Cuire encore 20 a 30 minutes jusqu’a ce que la croute sait bien dorée.  Transférer sure un grille et laisser refroidir complètement.
  9. Servir

Perks of Being a Carb Queen: Working at Le Pain Quotidien

Textured braids and golden crust. Mmm.One of my favorite “get to know you” questions to people is, “do you like bread, pasta, or rice?”  The answer I receive says a lot about that person that invites further probing.  A bread lover may be a condiment fanatic; a rice lover may be partial to Asian dishes, or perhaps merely Italian risotto; a pasta lover may have a weakness for comfort food.  Then there are people like me, who really can’t take their pick – coming from a culture where a meal doesn’t feel like a meal unless I have some form of carbs, it seems that I’ve been pre-programmed in a biological and sociocultural manner to love this food group.  A steaming bowl of brown rice goes with sesame sprinkles, lemon and avocado, or Turkish spices.   Celebration in physical form is a bowl of thick-cut fettucine with tomato cream ragu, flaked with freshly-grounded parmesan.  And who doesn’t love a baguette with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or with Nutella?  This, combined with a love of making bread in my own time (link previous article), is why I was overexcited to be spending a few fascinating weekends working at Le Pain Quotidien, making bread and pastries.  I was able to pick up on many helpful tips from the pros in just my first few hours there, and here’s a summary of how to make the bread-making process delicious, from mixing the ingredients to serving it to your loved ones.

Fat is good: The key to any good bread is the fat that is used.  European-style butter contains 85% fat, as opposed to American butter, which rages anywhere from 75% to 82% fat.  Add the butter in the batter with the “wet” ingredients for your enriched breads (mix the dry ingredients first), and do it in three successive times with your fingers.  Always chill your wet ingredients.  If you substitute butter for vegetable oil or olive oil, know that vegetable oil is almost tasteless, as opposed to the rich creaminess of butter or the distinct taste of olive oil.  All is good, but know what you’re getting into beforehand.   Also, when a recipe calls for a certain weight in eggs, always put the weight in yolks first before making it up with egg whites; the yolk is where the fat, and the flavor, is.

Building structure:  I’m personally not a fan of KitchenAid, because no matter how great of a hook they make, it’s still mimicking a baker’s hand – it’s not actually a baker’s hand.  You don’t want to over-knead your dough, because it’ll start to serrate, and won’t be smooth; a ready-to-use dough should feel not as sticky but still malleable, while a dough that needs more kneading will still be sticky, because you haven’t combined all the ingredients.  As the pro bakers say, “it’s ready when your hands hurt.”  When making dinner rolls, let the dough relax for at least fifteen minutes; when you can stretch it and watch it recoil back to a lump slowly, then it’s ready, because when it’s too elastic the yeast hasn’t worked its magic just yet. Fold the edges four or five times to build structure, then seal off the ball with your thumb and pinky.  Similarly, when checking to see if a bread is ready to bake, press on the side (not the top, because gravity makes this unfeasible) and make sure it springs back slowly.

Eggwash:  A pinch of salt beaten in with a whole egg yields a water-like liquid.  It can be brushed on bread so that the oven won’t make the bread crust too early, inhibiting its true volume.  Dip the brush into the batter, make sure the brush isn’t dripping, then brush the egg wash onto the bread.  Make sure nothing is “pooling” in any indentations (ie. where braids come together in a braided brioche).

A word on hydration:  For the health gurus out there, whole-wheat flour dries up your bread quickly, because it likes moisture.  You can get away with up to 15% of whole wheat flour with white flour, but anything above, you’ll need to tweak the liquid content.  If you’re using dried fruit or nuts, make sure you soak them first in water (or, during exam period, liquor) – by giving them their own source of hydration, they won’t suck out the moisture in your bread once it hits the oven.

Work on wood: A bit of cling is always good, and metal or plastic just doesn’t do it.  Invest in a nice cutting board that can double as a bread-making surface.

Flour: Le Pain Quotidien uses the King Arthur brand, because it’s unbleached.  Also, when using flour to make sure a surface isn’t too sticky, don’t use too much because you’ll disturb the perfectly measured increments of your ingredients list.  As somebody who isn’t big on precision, bread can really go wrong if you estimate.  I learned this the hard way.

Pre-heat that cookie sheet: It forms a protective layer against your pan.  Plus, if you tend to add too much brown sugar and butter in your cinnamon rolls like me, you won’t be picking at the caramelization on the bottom which is a pleasure to eat (made easier by your cookie sheet) and a pain in the arse to clean.

Taming the yeast beast: Choose dry yeast over active cultures.  Active cultures have low shelf life, and therefore is a bit riskier; if you’re buying it on day two, good for you, but if you’re getting it on day seven, then it’s not going to work as it professes to.  Le Pain Quotidien uses “rapid rise,” as opposed to the active dry type also seen in supermarkets.  Typically, recipes that are written for active cultures decrease in weight with an increasing amount of active cultures – it goes from 100% to 40% to 30% in conversion.

I hope that these tips helped for avid gourmet bread-bakers out there!  Recognizing that I am definitely a “food snob,” I still think that there’s good reason to scorn Betty Crocker mix when there’s so much attention to detail and tips and tricks that makes you a great baker.  More to come in the following weeks regarding making great bread!

A Longing, A Knead: Let Them Eat Bread

There is something immensely satisfying to baking bread. The measuring, pouring, mixing, kneading and shaping requisite for most breads bestow a sense of dominance, a feeling of invincibility upon the baker, by whose labor the simple ingredients become in so many ways transformed. While the seemingly arduous process deters many–two months ago, myself included–it involves little aside from a few hours of rising and a mere thirty minutes of involved­–and entirely enjoyable–hands-on baking. While I regret every day my lack of foresight in failing to bottle the slightly sweet, slightly grainy perfume of slowly rising bread for future relish, I assure the scent is one that inspires a sense of incomparable aching – for the future, to be clear. It is a difficult sensation to describe, the resistant crunching of the bread’s outer layer, quickly succeeded by the warm melting of the fluffed, airy meat within. And so I say, set aside a few hours from your upcoming Friday to satiate your curiosity (and appetite) with a loaf of your own.

For those with something (or someone!) even sweeter on their minds, french toast is guaranteed to please. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Recipe for Challah bread pictured above can be found at: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2008/09/best-challah-egg-bread/

Better than Sliced Bread

Instead of the typical “President’s Kitchen” and “Forgotten Foods” this week, Kelcey and Matt have teamed up to write about an especially carb-filled day in New York. With nothing but their wits and heavy winter coats (Kelcey’s is pretty much a mobile sleeping bag), they braved the frigid January air to journey to some of the city’s most famous bakeries.

The last week of winter break. I just walked into the apartment, still bristling from the 1 block walk from the subway stop. I went to California for the break, and my body was still in shock. I received a text from Kelcey saying she was free on Sunday, and the winter’s chill immediately dissipated. I knew exactly what we would do on Sunday: The Bread Tour of New York! Kelcey and I had been throwing around the idea of touring New York’s best bakeries since mid-summer, but somehow we never executed our plan. This was the perfect opportunity. We would toss all New Year’s resolutions out the window and finish the break with a bang (or at least a boat-load of calories)!

I met up with Kelcey around 10 o’clock down in SoHo for our first bakery. Little did I realize that Sunday was going to be the very coldest, absolutely bone-chilling day of January, with my smart phone reading 15 degrees. We ducked into the first destination, desperate to escape the cold. (-Matt)

Balthazar’s Bakery (and now Kelcey)

As Matt was saying, it was pretty freezing out there, and I had decided to walk from Battery Park City to SoHo (thanks to a non-functioning 1 train). Yes, my mobile-sleeping-bag-coat did keep me warm, all save my face. So by the time I met Matt outside Balthazar’s Bakery, I was totally ready to thaw myself out a bit. Balthazar’s Bakery, in comparison to the restaurant, is a small space with no seating, where most orders are taken to go. Matt and I agreed that our game plan for the day would be to get small items and share… not only to avoid becoming stuffed, but in order to try as many things as we could. On Matt’s recommendation, we decided to share one of their sticky buns. With coffee and pastry in hand, we ducked over to Starbucks to actually sit and enjoy our treat, and it was delicious! Unlike other sticky buns, which tend to be overly sweet and more sticky than bun, Balthazar’s sticky bun was light and covered with a modest amount of pecans and what tasted like butter toffee. The combination of nuts, delicate bun and sweet/salty toffee was totally a winner. And it went a long way in restoring me from my mile long trek in freezing temperatures!

Our sticky bun came to about $3.50. Balthazar’s Bakery is located at 80 Spring Street, SoHo. Continue reading Better than Sliced Bread

The Mad Foodie: Let’s Talk Leavening. Oh, and Banana Bread. Yum.

Today, we’ll talk about another basic scientific and cooking principle called leavening through a wonderful and delicious vehicle. Grab those extra bananas from John Jay and Ferris Booth, it’s time to make banana bread.

Leavening is the reason why baked goods rise and have little air pockets inside of them, making them fluffy and delectable. The phenomenon comes about through the use of (the aptly named) leavening agents, of which there are actually three types: biological, mechanical, and chemical.

Continue reading The Mad Foodie: Let’s Talk Leavening. Oh, and Banana Bread. Yum.