the michael corleone of bread

After my last bread baking fiasco I swore that I was done. I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t make anymore attempts until I finally took that baking class. I just couldn’t face one more disappointment. But the thing is, I have a sickness. An obsession. A undeniable need to fulfill my bread baking desires. I just can’t stop myself from attempting another “this might be the one” recipe. Sigh… It’s as if the very moment my latest baking disaster wound heals, there I am with yet another recipe to try. But the odds are in my favor, right? Sooner or later I’m bound to find success. I mean, you remember the pretzels don’t you!?!

Sure enough and completely true to form, a few weeks post fiasco I had my lastest bread baking blast of brilliance (say that three times fast). “Wouldn’t it be lovely if my family woke up to something freshly baked for breakfast?” I thought over coffee one morning. I’d been jonesing to try my hand at bialys, those wonderfully oniony cousins of the bagel, and (since the sting of my last disaster had dissipated nicely) this quiet Saturday morning seemed like the perfect time to give it a shot.

A little mixing, a bit of kneading. Some proofing and then sautéing. Deflate, form, spoon, bake and… “Just when I thought I was out— they pull me back in!” Yeah they were good, really good. So good that I will undoubtedly be lulled into giving “the perfect crusty loaf” another go sometime soon. And who knows (big wink), maybe this next recipe really will be THE ONE.

Bialys
These contain way more onions than traditional bialys, which is perfectly fine by me. Slather a little butter on one of these babies fresh out of the oven and— Whoo-hoo, call yourself a rock star!

bialys4

3 cups bread flour
1 tsp. instant yeast (such as SAF)
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup + 2 tsp. lukewarm water

for the filling:
2 cups onions, finely diced
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. poppy seeds

  1. Place the dough ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook. Allow to knead on medium for about 8 minutes, or until you have a smooth, fairly stiff dough.
  2. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover and allow it to rise in a warm spot for about 2 hours, or until it’s just about doubled in size.
  3. While the dough is rising, make the filling. Sprinkle the diced onion with salt and sauté in olive oil over medium-high heat, stirring often, until it’s a dark golden brown. Remove from the heat, stir in the poppy seeds and transfer to a small bowl to cool.
  4. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment and set aside.
  5. Gently deflate the dough and divide it into 8-10 pieces (depending on how large you want your bialys). Shape each piece into a disc, place the discs on a prepared cookie sheet and use your thumb to flatten out the center and give the bialy it’s classic bowl shape. (Be sure to keep the remaining dough covered until you’re ready to use it.)
  6. Spread the onion filling into the center of each bialy.
  7. Top the prepared bialys with a sheet of parchment paper; then with another cookie sheet. (You want to weigh them down so they don’t puff up too much.)
  8. Bake the bialys for 5 minutes. Remove the top cookie sheet and parchment paper and continuing baking for another 8-10 minutes, or until they’re a dappled golden brown.
  9. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. Repeat with the remaining dough, slather with butter and enjoy the adulations.

*adapted from king arthur flour

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the almond milk rescue

I was still on a high from last weeks pretzel success and feeling rather invincible when I decided that this week I would make another attempt at baking “the perfect crusty loaf”. Going back to work has seriously affected the amount of time I have to cook, so when I found a recipe that actually read “1. Mix together all the ingredients in the morning before you go to work. 2. Leave it in the warmest spot in your kitchen and allow to rise for 6-8 hours. 3. When you come home from work…” Are you kidding?!? I had joked that 2014 might be the year I finally achieved baking success, but I didn’t actually believe it. So before I left for work one morning I followed the recipe directions (seriously, I did!); mixed together the ingredients, left the covered bowl in a warm spot, said a quick prayer to the baking gods and hustled myself and the kids out the door. Flash forward eight hours to the biggest epic fail of my baking career. BIGGEST. EPIC. FAIL. After an eight-hour rise the dough was still fairly flat, I gave it a quick knead and attempted a second proofing only to be left with a big sticky mess to clean up and to top the disastrous attempt off nicely—the loaf stuck like glue to the bottom of my brand new dutch oven. Sigh… Calgon take me away.

It seemed a little early for a glass of wine and while I love coffee; freshly ground, freshly brewed, strong coffee, if you know me then you know that the only time of day I actually drink it (or anything caffeinated for that matter) is in the morning. If I need something warm and soothing later in the day then its usually a cup of decaf chai tea with a splash of milk—I love the creamy, spicy warmth that comes with chai. I’ve recently started making green smoothies again which means that I have always have almond milk in the house. I started tinkering around with other ways to use almond milk and discovered that when you heat it up and add lots of spices to it you wind up with the perfect warm, smoothing chai-type drink. Sure it won’t make you the queen of all bakers, but it will warm you from the inside out and offer you a few moments to regroup before the next “perfect crusty loaf” recipe comes along.

Warm Spiced Almond Milk
This recipe also works with regular milk, however I actually prefer it with the almond milk.

almond milk5

2 cups almond-coconut milk
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. Chinese Five Spice
1/2 tsp. real vanilla extract
2 tsp. honey

  1. Place all the ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat over a medium flame, stirring frequently, until the milk is hot but has not yet begun to simmer.
  2. Stain milk mixture through a fine mesh strainer and into a large mug and enjoy!

the hercules of soft pretzels

Beginnings and endings beg for reflection, that’s just how it is. They force you to pause for a moment and contemplate the ups and downs of the past and the changes you hope for in the future. I don’t typically make formal New Year’s resolutions, however there are a few little things I’d like to see happen over the next twelve months. For instance— I would like to be a more patient mother between the hours of 8 and 9:00 a.m. (getting out of the house on a school morning without yelling would feel like a minor miracle!). I would like to laugh at the ridiculous more and worry about the clearly inalterable less. I would like to make plans with my girlfriends at least once a month to go out for drinks, dinner or just adults only ice skating. And I would like to once and for all achieve success and finally fulfill all my bread baking ambitions.

I’ve told you before about my obsession with and repeated failures at bread baking. I truly and with all my heart long to successfully make an eye-rollingly delicious, crusty on the outside light and wonderful on the inside, loaf of bread. A simple seeded boule or a rustic baguette, bread so amazing it could easily serve as the meal, rather than just the accompaniment to it. I’ve even joked that I either need a bread baking class or an intervention. As luck would have it a baking studio offering bread classes recently opened near my house, so perhaps there is already a glimmer of hope on the horizon. In the meantime I plan to keep plugging along on my own, hoping that one of these recipe will be “the one”. With that in mind I recently decided to attempt to make soft pretzels. I’ve been toying with the idea and collecting pretzel recipes for some time, but something always stopped me from giving it a go. Then along came Hercules (the winter storm not the Greek hero) and the timing just seemed right.

My first inkling that I might be onto something was when my dough actually doubled in size in the amount of time the recipe suggested. Next it was when years of making play-dough snakes finally paid off and my little ball of dough quickly turned into something resembling a pretzel. (Actually at this point I was so excited at the prospect of a successful outcome that I called the kids to come checkout my pretzels!) After a quick baking soda bath and a few minutes in the oven, the moment I dread with every bread recipe I attempt was upon us. Would it be another baking debockle or would 2014 be my year?

♫ Oh yeah. Uh huh.  I baked a pretzel. ♪  It’s my birthday. ♫…

Soft Rosemary Pretzels with Cheddar Sauce
Even if you’re not a big fan of rosemary you should still consider using some. The flavor is really subtle and it’s the difference a good pretzel and an extraordinary one.

pretzels2

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tbsp. light brown sugar
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp.)
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2 1/2 tsp. salt
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
Canola oil, to grease bowl
3 quarts water
2/3 cups baking soda
1 egg, beaten + 1 tbsp. cold water
coarse salt

2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups milk, warmed
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
4 oz. sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

  1. Combine the water, sugar, yeast, and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk to combine. Let sit for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the salt, flour, and rosemary to the mixture and mix on low-speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and it has formed a ball. (If the dough appears too wet, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.)
  3. Coat a large bowl with canola oil, add the dough and turn to coat with the oil. Remove the dough from the stand mixer bowl, knead a few times and place in the oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot until the dough doubles in size. This will take about an hour and a half. (I usually warm my oven, turn it off and place the covered bowl inside it to allow it to rise.)
  4. When the dough has doubled preheat the oven to 400°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment and set aside. Bring the water to a boil in a large stockpot.
  5. Divide the dough in half, then dived the halves into eight equal pieces. (Cover the bowl with a towel while working.) Roll each piece into an 12” rope, take the right side and cross over to the left, twist together and bring to the bottom. Pinch onto the curved bottom piece to create a pretzel shape.
  6. Slowly add the baking soda to the boiling water. Boil the pretzels in the water solution, 2 at a time for 30 seconds. Remove with a large flat slotted spatula and place on the prepared cookie sheet. Brush the tops of each pretzel with the egg wash, sprinkle with coarse salt and bake for 18-22 minutes or until pretzels are rich golden brown.
  7. Remove pretzels from oven and let cool on a wire rack.
  8. To make the cheese sauce: Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook until it’s a golden brown. Add the warm milk, salt and garlic powder and whisk until the mixture thickens. Add the shredded cheese and stir until the cheese is melted and smooth. Serve alongside the warm pretzels.

*adapted from two peas and their pod