Quick and easy yeast bread suggestion

Ready for another “really more a suggestion than a recipe” post? Well, ready or not, here comes such a post. I worked from home today, to allow some contractors access to not really do anything in our house. Earlier in the week I had thought vaguely of taking advantage of being at home to bake some bread today, perhaps to be served with some soup for dinner, but I’m really busy at work these days and when I looked at the clock with a mind towards starting dinner, it was 6 p.m. Ordinarily I’d tell you that any loaf of bread I’d bake will take a minimum of 18 hours from start to finish, because I always use some sort of pre-ferment or starter. But even if I were willing to lower my standards and bake a “same day” dough, starting at 6 p.m. and having bread in time for dinner would be an impossibility…right? I mean, you’re looking at at least 3 hours rising and proofing time, close to an hour baking time, and an hour to cool. (Cooling is non-negotiable, sorry. Slicing hot bread ruins it.)

Not only THAT but my scale is broken. How can I bake without a scale??? (And WHY is my scale broken?!)

There was an answer, though. I thought back to an earlier time, when I didn’t have a scale. I didn’t have my faithful mixer Hieronymus. I didn’t even have the two Kitchen Aid mixers I destroyed before Hieronymus graced me with his wonderful presence. I didn’t have a Thermapen, hand-crafted proofing baskets, multiple peels, a sourdough starter named Sally, or a Fibrament baking stone. What I had was a bread machine I hated and an incredible desire to turn myself into a bread baker, despite producing several paperweights the first few times I tried.

I was a much newer vegan, and still learning how to cook, back then and I spent a lot of time on Vegweb looking for recipes. I found a promising recipe for homemade bread: Outrageously Easy BIG Bread. Back then I think there were only about 10 comments (it looks like the old comments from before Vegweb updated their site a few years ago were removed; this was much longer ago than 2006), but they were all positive, so I gave it a go. And I was successful! I quickly began building a reputation among my friends for always having fresh homemade bread…people would regularly show up at 2 or 3 a.m. demanding some!

I’m a bread snob now. I’ve been an official tester for Peter Reinhart. People come to me for advice…and starter. I ordinarily wouldn’t deign to put more than a tablespoon of instant yeast(!) into a single batch of bread…ordinarily I’d use no instant yeast because I’m a sourdough gal all the way. But tonight, sans scale, I broke out my unused measuring cups and spoons, googled “outrageous bread”, and followed the familiar recipe…well, except for throwing all the ingredients into Hieronymus and having him knead them for a little bit for me. But if you don’t have a mixer and you want to try baking bread and you’re frustrated that EVERY recipe assumes you have a Kitchen Aid, except the famous no-knead recipe, but that takes a million hours…I’ve made the recipe as instructed, without a mixer, many times, and look where I am today!

So today’s post isn’t a recipe, at least not one of mine. It’s an encouragement to those scared of bread baking to give it a shot. And it’s a reminder to those who aren’t scared of bread baking but are snobbish like myself that sometimes you CAN make bread in two hours. Some photos to prove it:

After kneading for about two minutes. (But again, kneading is technically unnecessary.)

I let it rise for 45 minutes, then did a quick “stretch and fold”, which is a technique I’m sure I’ve documented somewhere on this site, but instead of searching for it, here is Peter Reinhart demonstrating it.

Partially because I was super busy with work and partially because I wasn’t really thinking, I returned the dough to the rising container after the stretch and fold, even though the recipe says to shape it and do the second rise on the baking tray. I was planning to make four small loaves for bread bowls and if I’d been concentrating on the bread instead of work, I’d probably have done a stretch and fold at 20-25 minutes, then let rise for another 25 minutes or so, then shaped into four rounds and let them proof for 45 minutes on the tray. But instead, I let the dough rise for another 45 minutes in the rising bucket, while pre-heating the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, and realized when I was ready to bake that I hadn’t shaped them. Here’s the dough, risen quite a bit, but not shaped.

No matter. I decided I’d just hope for a lot of oven spring and merrily but roughly divided and roughly shaped my loaves.

Then I baked them for the prescribed “exactly” 23 minutes, although I’m here to tell you that REALLY baking time is going to depend on your oven. After years of experience with all kinds of breads I can tell you that 23 minutes is not enough, especially if you use all that dough for a single loaf; even my tiny loaves really should have stayed in at least 10 minutes longer. However, I was too busy to worry too much about it so when they looked fairly golden at 23 minutes, I took them out and later regretted it. There IS such a thing as paying too little attention to your bread.

Now, ESPECIALLY if you are making bread bowls like me, COOL the bread before cutting. I know it’s hard. Mark managed to time his grand entrance home from work about two minutes after I’d removed them from the oven – I had JUST sat down – and he walked through the door loudly and excitedly exclaiming, “SOMETHING SMELLS AWESOME!! I can tell SOMEONE worked from home!” To which I shouted, “DO NOT TOUCH THEM! NO TOUCHING!” It’s true I worked from home, but as I didn’t start this bread until just after 6 p.m., I could easily have made it any other day, even if I had gone into the office! Well, if I had gone into the office and left at a reasonable time instead of some stupid time like 8 p.m.

I made Creamless Asparagus Soup for the bread bowls.

Okay, so not only is this post “more a suggestion than a recipe”, it is also more a shameless excuse to post completely non-food-related photos than a recipe. First of all, we have a cardinal family that lives in our yard and I’m always delighted to see how loyal Mr and Mrs Cardinal are to each other. They’re always together. I love it! And today I caught them kissing! It’s not a super-sharp picture because it was taken through a screened window, but the cute factor made it a keeper nonetheless.

I was alerted to the presence of these little lovebirds by Torticia, who suddenly took an “OMG!” stance while looking out the window:

And guess what else it’s time for?!? BABY RACCOONS, that’s what! These sweet little babies – a family of four boys – are about 10 days old in this picture, taken on Saturday, a few days after their mother failed to claim them after they were evicted from a chimney. I’m very sorry they won’t be raised by their mother, but very grateful that the homeowner opted for a cruelty-free eviction and spared the lives of these tykes, who would have been killed by most “pest” control services. If you find animals in your chimney or home, PLEASE search for a humane eviction alternative. They almost always result in the babies being reunited with their mother, and they never result in baseless wildlife murder.

Outside at the sanctuary, we found a friendly wild and pregnant raccoon having some breakfast. Because she wasn’t afraid of us, she is definitely a rehabbed raccoon from a prior season, returning to give birth in the safety of the sanctuary grounds.

She was hamming it up for the camera! Raccoons have huge personalities. I’m so glad I chose to work with them!

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xgfx.org, Po’Boys, a bread recipe, and Jeremy

This post is going to take a sad turn, so the first thing I want to do is give you some very good news. The website the world’s been waiting for, whether they knew it or not, xgfx.org, has gone live today. The brainchild of Kittee of Cake Maker to the Stars, Allyson of Manifest Vegan, and Jessy of Happyveganface, xgfx.org is the first major source of vegan and gluten-free recipes, tutorials, information, and community. I’m very excited about it (and not only because I have a tutorial available there), and I think you will be too.

Now onto less happy things. There’s a recipe after this and you are welcome to scroll down and skip the depressing stuff. Mark and I recently learned that one of our good friends passed away a while ago. Today would have been his 33rd birthday, so I chose today to make a small tribute to him here. I lived with Jeremy for a little over a year, and Mark lived with him for a total of several years, in I believe three different states. I’m still processing this news – it doesn’t seem real. One thing I’ve been doing a lot of is looking at old pictures. I know the vast majority of you didn’t know him (and I hope those of you who did aren’t finding out through this post; if you are, please email me or Mark), but I wanted to do something to mark his birthday and celebrate our friendship.

Jeremy in Washington Square in NYC, where we were visiting him for his birthday, in 2003:

Jeremy at the infamous party at V’s place:

Jeremy being silly – I think he’s actually pretending he’s Mark here (speaking of Jeremy and Mark, it was during an instant messaging conversation with Jeremy that I coined Mark’s nickname Smark; I accidentally typed, “it’ smark” instead of “it’s Mark”, then started laughing and declared I was going to start calling Mark Smark. AND I DID):

I really hesitate to post this one because it’s awful, but it’s the only picture I can find of the two of us together (this is what happens when you are the one who takes all the pictures) (but at least I’m wearing a Praise Seitan shirt!):

These are my favorites though; you can probably guess why.

This is the best because no one other than Mark and I was ever brave enough to pick Tigger up – especially when he was outside, as he tended to get testy out there. This was before Jeremy moved in with us, so although he wasn’t a stranger to Tigger, this was still an extraordinarily brave thing for Jeremy to do. And Tigger didn’t care! Amazing!

Now for the recipe. Jeremy’s mother lives near New Orleans, and Jeremy and Mark lived together in New Orleans for a while, and Jeremy loved New Orleans cuisine. So to honor him on his birthday today, I made Po’Boys. I used the recipe in American Vegan Kitchen (which is a great cookbook, by the way). Apparently the bread is very important in Po’Boys. I found this recipe on The Fresh Loaf and have veganized it for your pleasure. I hate using bread recipes written with volume, not weight, measures, but, hey, at least you won’t need a scale for one of my bread recipes. This bread is fast and easy (I’m not used to making breads that don’t take at least two days!) and can obviously be used for many sandwiches and purposes other than Po’Boys. But it made a damn fine Po’Boy, according to this girl who has never had an actual Po’Boy in her life.

Po’Boy Bread

6 (possibly up to 7) cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp instant yeast (this is one packet if you buy them that way)
2 Tbsp dry soy milk powder (I keep a cannister of Better Than Soy Milk on hand for baking purposes and milk emergencies)
1 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
2 cups warm water (not hot, it will kill the yeast)
1 Tbsp vegan margarine

Put the yeast, soy milk powder, salt, sugar, and 2 cups of the flour into the bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk together. (I don’t bother mixing dry ingredients before adding others because it’s not necessary with my mixer, but it also doesn’t hurt, so I’m telling you to do it anyway.)

Add the water and margarine.

Mix on low speed (on Kitchen Aids, use the paddle attachment) for two minutes. It will be very soupy.

Add the rest of the flour in 1/2 cup increments as you continue to mix. This is how it looks after about half of the rest of the flour has been added:

If you have a Kitchen Aid, switch to the dough hook about the time you are adding the final cup of flour. Continue to mix another minute or two, adding additional flour if necessary to form a soft but not tacky dough. I took it out of my mixer so you can see the texture, but leave yours in.

Cover the mixer bowl and let rest for 15 minutes. Then mix again for 10 minutes. (Speed 2 on a Kitchen Aid. I think I did 5 minutes on Speed 1 in my Bosch and 5 minutes on Speed 2, but a Bosch Speed 2 is different than a Kitchen Aid Speed 2.)

Place in a greased bowl and cover with a plate, or use a fancy dough rising bucket like I have.

Let rise until doubled …

… then gently de-gas by pushing it back down (don’t “punch” it; that’s no way to treat a bread dough!).

Cut it in half with a bench cutter or serrated knife and flatten each half into a rough rectangle. Cover with a towel and let rest for 10 minutes.

Use your fingers to pull and press each half into a rectangle about 10″x16″.

Roll up each rectangle to create a log about 16″ long. Seal the ends and the bottom seam by pinching them closed.

Tray them on a half sheet pan, using a Silpat or parchment paper.

Cover with a damp tea towel and proof for about 45 minutes or until nearly doubled in size. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Score by slicing 1/2″ deep cuts at a sharp angle.

Spray liberally with cold water.

If you can, prepare to steam your oven. I do this by having a (non-seasoned) cast iron pan on the bottom rack of the oven. It must be preheated with the oven; I just keep mine in the oven at all times; it’s dedicated just for this use (which is why I didn’t bother seasoning it). Just before loading the bread, carefully pour 1 cup of water into the steam pan and quickly close the oven door. Please use heavy oven mitts when you do this; steam burns. Then load the bread as quickly as you can. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. You can rotate the pan at 20 minutes for even browning. Cool thoroughly on a wire rack before slicing.

Here is the crumb:

Rest in peace, Jeremy. You are greatly missed, and I’ll especially miss talking about books with you. We shared many meals together and I wish we could have shared this birthday meal for you together as well.

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Welsh Rarebit

This will be a brief post, like the dinner it was inspired by. No elaborate write-up, just a quick note of what I made tonight. I was planning to serve a bean dish made with Great Northern beans and a green veggie, and was pondering what my third item should be when I saw that I had a small loaf of slightly stale homemade bread. I didn’t think the bread would be spectacular on its own, but toasted and slathered in something, I figured it would be great. So I decided to make Welsh rarebit. I’ve always heard that Welsh rarebit – essentially cheese sauce on toast – is so-called because it was what was served if you went out rabbit hunting and didn’t catch any rabbits, but according to that Wikipedia article that explanation is a slur, implying the Welsh were never successful at killing rabbits. Well, there is a lot of Welsh in my family history and I’m sure my mother would not let me make any slurs against the Welsh (not that I would, I even wear a Welsh dragon necklace), but I’ve always liked the story because I’m for any story that involves rabbits not being killed.

The “cheese” sauce is essentially the Yeast Cheeze from Simply Heavenly! (which is in this post) using beer and non-dairy milk for most of the water. I also added some of the ubiquitous Dragonfly’s Dry, Bulk Uncheese. Here’s pretty much what I did:

Welsh Rarebit

6 Tbsp nutritional yeast
6 Tbsp all purpose flour
1/4 cup Dragonfly’s Dry, Bulk Uncheese
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
8 oz (1 cup) beer
8 oz (1 cup) water
4 oz (1/2 cup) non-dairy milk
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp soy margarine

In a saucepan, whisk together the dry ingredients. Whisk in the beer, water, and non-dairy milk. Heat over medium heat, whisking frequently, until thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in mustard and soy margarine. Set aside.

Slice as many thick slabs of bread as you’d like. Slather with “cheese” sauce. Toast in toaster oven at high temperature (or regular oven at around 400 degrees Fahrenheit, or broil) until “cheese” is beginning to bubble. Serve with optional hot sauce.

So, you saw Gomez’s Halloween costume in my last post. I wish I had a nice picture of Torticia in her Halloween costume, but I’m afraid she thought her costume was a toy. Since the day I bought it, she’s been dragging it around the house and attacking it. She loves it. She was supposed to be a butterfly. I did manage to get this picture of the headpiece before she completely destroyed it:

But this is what happened when I put the wings on:

Well, she was cute anyway. I couldn’t very well tell her to stop loving her costume so much, right?

Mark and I were Luke and Lanet for Halloween. Luke and Lanet are our good friends and the couple hosting the party we went to. They both have iPads so Mark and I made fake iPads as props. I’m really going to have to get Lanet to do a guest post sometime because she’s a great cook. It’s always a treat to go to their house because she makes sure we vegans are well taken care of. Lanet and I are always talking about food and getting each other hyped up about kitchen appliances.

Who’s who in this crazy picture?!

It’s scary because I’m wearing pink! That only ever happens on Halloween.

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