Saturday, March 3, 2012

Adventures in Bread Baking

Over the past week, we've tackled making some breads I never thought I'd try. A few years ago, they would have seemed too daunting... the idea of making a yeast cinnamon cranberry bread totally from scratch or taking a stab at the traditional fry bread naan would have been totally overwhelming. I would have just looked at the recipe and said, "Self, this is beyond your area of expertise. Move on to the next page in this cookbook you're browsing."

Well, the great thing about the bread machine is that it's given me the confidence to try some of those yeast breads I wouldn't have otherwise. Add to that the expertise of my kitchen diva aunt (who suggested I use a thermometer to measure the "warm water" temperature that so many bread recipes call for in the sponge step... don't know why the scientist in me didn't think of that!). And that of our new friend who is a fabulous cook and makes wonderfully flaky pastry and pie crust and has invited us over for dinner and pie crust lessons (the menu was quiche and apple pie for dessert). Let's just say that I've been fortunate to gain some confidence in this area of baking and have taken the "if it looks ugly, we'll still eat it" approach with a lot of meals. Most bakers will tell you that, as with most things in life, you get better with practice.

So, this week, we made this fabulous cinnamon cranberry swirl bread from the latest issue of my new favorite magazine Cook's Illustrated. The bread was totally from scratch, as is everything they write up, and was by far the best cinnamon bread I've ever tasted (no lie!). The only draw back was that it's a little more hands on than most breads I make, so it's definitely a Saturday bread for us and not a weeknight one. One of the great things about Cook's Illustrated is that they now have these short video clips available for a time to supplement certain articles. The one to go with this bread really helped me get the technique down for shaping the bread, which was a little tough for me to get just from the written directions (though their written directions are very clear, I was just being a bit obtuse at the time). Of course I had to riff on the recipe a bit and use dried cranberries instead of raisins (we didn't have any in the house and we like dried cranberries better anyway). Yum!

Last night we took a break from our standard homemade pizza date night and tried a vegetable curry from the More With Less cookbook. Generally, I don't care for curries, but this was was awesome! (We'd also had one similar with our friend who's the self-taught pastry guru and she made the naan we tried too.) So, while the curry cooked, we tried our hand at making naan, having observed these friends making it earlier in the week. It really was as easy as they made it look! We had to play with the temperature of the skillet a bit, but overall, it was a breeze. I even goofed and used all purpose flour instead of bread flour and it was fine. (I also added some soy flour and wheat germ for added protein and minerals.) They were fabulous with the curry, but would also make wonderful individual pizza crusts or yummy sandwich breads in place of pita or a tortilla.

So, what culinary adventures have you been up to lately? Are you doing more of your own baking to get high quality breads that fit your budget, instead of getting ones that are pricier from the local bakery or settling for the pre-sliced supermarket stuff? I'd love to hear from you!

Here's the recipe for the naan, from the companion to More with Less, Simply in Season. Let me know how it goes!


1/4 c warm water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
Mix in a small bowl until dissolved.

1 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
1 beaten egg
2 tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons salt
Mix in separate bowl. Stir in yeast mixture.

5+ cups bread flour (up to half whole wheat)
Stir in enough flour to make a soft dough. Knead 5-10 minutes. Place in greased bowl. Turn to grease both sides. Cover with damp cloth and let rise one hour. Separate dough into golf ball-size balls. Roll each into 1/16 inch thickness (they cook best when thin). Preheat frypan or iron skillet to medium high heat. Add 1/2 teaspoon butter to frypan and allow to melt. Place one round of dough into pan at a time. Cook on each side until lightly browned and puffy (approx. 2-3 minutes per side). Wrap in a towel to keep warm while cooking remaining breads.

Makes about 16 breads; serves 8-12.

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