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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Jeffrey Hamelman’s Five Grain Levain

This is one of my all-time favorite breads, and judging by the reactions I got when I served it as rolls at the party last weekend, it’s a big hit with others as well. I like it best in roll form, partly because it freezes so well that way, so that’s what I have documented here, although I’ll give you bake times for loaves as well. Jeffrey Hamelman is a Certified Master Baker and Bakery Director at King Arthur Flour. (I buy all my flour at King Arthur, by the way, and highly recommend it.) I’m always pushing Peter Reinhart’s bread books on you because I think his books are the absolute best for beginner bakers, but my other favorite bread book is Hamelman’s Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes. It comes off a bit more advanced than Reinhart’s books, and with recipes scaled for both bakery and home use, it seems aimed towards very serious bakers, but he does have some really great, well-written chapters on technique – it just lacks all the pretty pictures Reinhart’s books have. I’ve never made a bad loaf of bread from this book, and every single one has come out of the oven crackling and beautiful.

Because I found this recipe on The Fresh Loaf and several other websites, I decided it was okay to share with you. But I must repeat that this is an excellent book, and if you make and like this recipe, I highly recommend you buy the book.

Jeffrey Hamelman’s Five-Grain Levain

Liquid Levain Build

8 oz (1 7/8 cups) bread flour
10 oz (1 1/4 cups) water
1.6 oz (3 Tbsp) mature sourdough starter * –> I explained how to make your own here, and you can also buy it from King Arthur Flour, which is actually where my current starter came from, which I guess means I’m baking with the same starter Hamelman is!

* I can’t vouch for the flavor because I’ve never done this, but if you are dying to try this bread and don’t have a starter and aren’t interested in growing one, you could use 1/4 tsp yeast here and essentially make a pâte fermentée. Also, I use more starter than what Hamelman calls for here. Instead of just 1.6 oz, I use half of my current starter so I’m doing a regular feeding of it; this is about 4 oz. Because I do this, I reduce the instant yeast in the final build somewhat.


2.9 oz (5/8 cup) cracked rye (when I don’t have rye, I use millet, as I have done with this bake)
2.9 oz (5/8 cup) flaxseeds
2.5 oz (1/2 cup) sunflower seeds
2.5 oz (3/4 cup) oats
.2 oz (1 tsp) salt
13 oz (1 5/8 cups) water, boiling

Final Build
1 lb, 8 oz (all of above) soaker
1 lb, 2 oz (all less 3 Tbsp of above) liquid levain*
1 lb (4 3/8 cups) high gluten flour (you could try using bread flour if you can’t get high gluten)
8 oz (1 3/4 cups) whole wheat flour (I usually use white whole wheat)
.6 oz (1 Tbsp) salt
.1 oz (1 tsp) instant dry yeast
8.4 oz (1 cup) water

* The reason Hamelman calls for “all less 3 Tbsp” of the liquid levain is he expects you to reserve that 3 Tbsp to perpetuate your starter; however, since I’ve already saved half of my starter, I just include all of the liquid levain build in my final build. I have to make small adjustments in my final build – namely a little less water and/or more flour – to account for this.

The night before baking, build the liquid levain by mixing together all of the ingredients in a medium bowl. Cover (I use a plate to save on plastic wrap) and let sit at room temperature for 12 to 16 hours.

Also the night before, prepare the soaker by mixing together all the dry ingredients and then covering with boiling water and stirring well. Cover and let sit at room temperature with the levain.

My covered bowls:

Here is the levain the next morning, nice and bubbly:

On baking day, place all ingredients, including the soaker and levain, in the mixing bowl.

I had a helper. Remember on the first day we got the kittens I said I thought Torticia might end up taking Tigger’s place as my kitchen assistant? Turns out I was right.

If kneading by hand, stir until it comes together, then knead for probably about 10 minutes (Hamelman doesn’t even assume you’ll be doing this and I’ve never tried, so I’m guessing here). If using a mixer, mix on first speed for 3 minutes, adjusting the water or flour as necessary. You want a fairly tacky dough; it may seem pretty wet, in fact, if you aren’t used to high hydration doughs.

Then mix on the next highest speed for 3 to 3 1/2 minutes.

As this dough is a bit sticky, I spread a very light layer of flour on my workspace …

… then dump the dough from the bowl onto the flour, pulling it into a nice ball and coating it very lightly with the flour to make it easier to handle.

At the risk of looking like an advertisement for King Arthur Flour, here is my dough in their Dough-Rising Bucket, which I find indispensable for rising large batches of dough. Of course you can also use a large bowl, covering with either plastic wrap or a large plate as I demonstrated above. In either case, spray lightly with oil, then put the dough in.

Let rise for either 1 hour or 1 1/2 hours. (Although he doesn’t go into detail in the recipe, the difference in rising time would be due to different ambient temperatures; you’ll require longer rises in colder rooms.) If 1 1/2 hours (which is what I always do regardless of the temperature), stretch and fold after 45 minutes. This is how you do a stretch and fold: Remove the dough from the bowl and stretch out like this:

Fold it like a letter, that is, fold 1/3 down towards the middle …

… and then the other 1/3 up towards the middle …

Then stretch it out in the other direction …

… and repeat the process.

Return to the bowl (folds down) and let rise for the second 45 minutes. It should about double.

Remove the dough and shape. This recipe makes three 1.5 pound loaves, which you can shape into round or oval freestanding loaves. You can also make larger loaves. My favorite, though, are rolls. I divided the dough into 16 pieces about 5 ounces each.

Then I formed rolls by pulling together the dough on the bottom and forming a seam, pulling the dough so the surface is taut on the opposite side. This is hard to describe and photograph, but both Hamelman and Reinhart do a better job than me in their books. This roll is upside down (seam side up). The other side should be smooth and full of surface tension.

I panned 8 to a tray (now they are right side up – seam side down).

Cover and proof for an hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 460 degrees Fahrenheit.

To bake, I steam the oven by placing 1 cup of hot water in a cast iron pan (which I have devoted to this exclusive use) I keep on the bottom rack of my oven. If you don’t want to do that, spray the rolls with water and/or spray the oven walls with water just after loading the rolls. I had to bake each half-sheet pan separately, but you can bake 2 (possibly 3 if your oven is large) loaves at a time. Rolls take 20 to 25 minutes, 1.5 pound loaves 40 to 45 minutes, larger loaves a bit longer. Don’t underbake this dough; the seeds retain a lot of hydration and it takes extra time to bake. It should be a dark golden brown. One of the biggest mistakes most novice bakers make is not baking long enough; they get nervous when they see dark browning. I had to train myself to let my crusts get darker than I thought I wanted them to be. I think I read somewhere that you should bake bread until the crust is as dark as you expect it to be, then let it bake five more minutes. I could have let these get even darker.

Let cool for at least an hour (maybe 45 minutes for rolls) before slicing. Don’t be tempted to ignore this step! The cooling process is nearly as important as the baking process and you can ruin a loaf by slicing it too soon. For most of the breads I make, keeping Mark from slicing it too soon is the hardest step!

The crumb:

Simple sandwich of perfectly ripe tomato from the farmer’s market, freshly ground salt and pepper, and a little Vegenaise. Heaven!

If you freeze these, we’ve found that microwaving them for 30 seconds at normal power to defrost is perfect. There is little to no taste difference between fresh and frozen, so I love making a batch of these on the weekend and having “fresh” rolls on weeknights or for lunches for the next few weeks.

The kittens went outside (on leashes!) yesterday, but this has been a long, photo-heavy post, so I’ll fill you in on it in a later post, which will be soon because I’m cooking up something special today.

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Kaiser Rolls

When I was in high school, I worked in a local grocery store. It was the cool place to work; everyone in my high school worked there. When I applied, I assumed that like all of the other female teenage employees, I’d become a cashier. I was a little disappointed when they told me I’d be working in the bakery, because I thought I wouldn’t see all my friends, all the females of whom were cashiers. It didn’t take long for me to realize that working in the bakery was the very best assignment possible. The bakers, who all started at some obscene hour like 4 a.m., went home about half an hour after my weekday shifts began, which meant I was working with no supervision all night long. Shortly after I started, one of my best friends applied to work in the bakery with me and was also hired, which meant we spent every night goofing off, decorating donuts with cake icing and putting them out to sell, decorating cakes with our own ridiculous drawings, and chasing around and being chased by the produce guys, whose back room was connected to ours. I guess we somehow managed to do our work as well because I got along very well with the bakers, with whom I did have to work on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

This is me behind the bakery counter, selling my donut wares.

This is my friend, Dawn, looking at me through a cart of “trayed-up” frozen rolls. We had to do “tray-up”, which involved lining frozen rolls and breads on trays, putting them on a cart, and pushing them into the freezer, every night. I used to leave the bakers stories about the Tray-up God on the backs of the tray-up checklists. I’m very curious now to know what the heck I wrote, but one of the bakers told me at the time she saved them all. I’m sure they were ridiculous.

Anyway, if you’d have told me when I worked in the grocery store bakery that I’d one day consider being a baker, I’d have called you crazy. I couldn’t fathom the hours, for one thing (really, I still can’t), and it just didn’t seem very me, as much as I did like my after-school job. Culinary arts weren’t something I aspired to or had any interest in. Then when I went vegan and started teaching myself how to cook, I tried baking bread a few times and never had any success, so I gave up for several years, although I did get a bread machine. Eventually I got tired of the bread machine – it made funny shaped loaves and the paddle kept coming off and getting baked into the bread – and I tried my hand at baking by hand again. This time I for some reason had success, and after baking several breads from recipes off the internet, I got The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. I don’t want to sound overly dramatic by saying it changed my life, but in a way it did, because I always thought I just didn’t have a knack for bread, but after buying that book, I did have a knack for it. Or, more likely, Peter Reinhart is just really good at teaching bread baking, even through a book. And his breads taste amazing. If you have any interest in bread baking, I can’t recommend his books, particularly this one, enough. After my huge successes baking nearly every bread in that book and his others, I fell in love with it so much I have considered working in a bakery – baking this time, not washing dishes and arranging frozen rolls on trays.

We’re not doing much for the Fourth of July this year – just hanging out with the kittens and taking care of some stuff around the house – but I usually try to at least loosely follow tradition for holiday meals, so I decided I’d make homemade veggie burgers today and I decided to make Peter Reinhart’s kaiser rolls for them. These kaiser rolls taste amazing. They are definitely the best kaiser rolls I’ve ever had. I never fail to think of the frozen kaiser rolls I used to tray up in high school and always think how much better these are.

I’m normally hesitant to publish Peter’s recipes because I really do want you to buy his books, but I found the following online in several places (including Google Books). The only change I’ve made is I substituted En-R-G egg replacer for the egg he calls for, though I suspect you could just leave it out entirely. Also, I doubled the recipe in the book, which made six rolls, because if six rolls are good, a dozen is even better. They freeze well. The measurements below are Peter’s original for 6 4-ounce rolls, but you’ll see my doubled measurements in the pictures.

Finally, I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: Weigh your ingredients. If you are at ALL interested in baking, buy a scale and use it. I’ve included the volume measurements because I’m a nice gal, but it is very hard to consistently measure ingredients – especially flour – by volume.

Peter Reinhart’s Kaiser Rolls
From The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

Pate Fermentee
5 oz (1 1/8 cups) all-purpose flour*
5 oz (1 1/8 cups) bread flour*
.19 oz (3/4 tsp) salt
.055 oz (1/2 tsp) instant yeast
6-7 oz (3/4 cup to 3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp) water

* Peter says you can use all all-purpose or all bread flour if that’s all you have, but that this combination seems to yield the best results.

8 oz (1 1/2 cups) pate fermentee (half of the above recipe)
10 oz (2 1/4 cups) bread flour
.2 oz (3/4 tsp + a pinch) salt
.17 oz (1 tsp) diastatic barley malt powder OR .33 oz (1 1/2 tsp) barley malt syrup
.11 oz (1 tsp) instant yeast
1 Tbsp En-R-G egg replacer + 4 Tbsp water, whisked
.75 ounce (1 1/2 Tbsp) vegetable oil
5 – 6 oz (10 Tbsp to 3/4 cup) water
poppy and/or sesame seeds, for topping

The night before baking, make the pate fermentee. I didn’t take pictures of this, but all you need to do is add all the dry ingredients to the bowl of your electric mixer (or a regular bowl if mixing by hand), then add 6 ounces of the water and mix on low speed or stir for about a minute until everything comes together in a coarse ball. Add the extra water if there is loose flour left over. Then mix on medium speed for 4 minutes, or knead by hand for 4 to 6 minutes, until the dough is, in Peter’s words, “soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky”. Lightly oil a bowl, roll the dough in the oil, then cover the bowl with a plate (in lieu of the plastic wrap Peter calls for). Leave the bowl out at room temperature for an hour or until the dough has risen to 1 1/2 times its original size, then refrigerate overnight or up to three days.

When you are ready to bake, remove the pate fermentee from the refrigerator.

Remove it from the bowl and use a bench cutter (or a serrated knife) to cut it into about 10 small pieces.

Cover with a tea towel and let come to room temperature for an hour. When the hour is up, add the flour, salt, malt powder, and yeast to your mixing bowl. Add the pate fermentee pieces, egg replacer, oil, and 5 ounces of water.

Mix on low speed for a minute (or stir by hand) until it comes together in a ball. Add the additional ounce of water if there is still loose flour.

Mix on medium speed for 6 minutes (10 minutes by hand), adding flour if needed, to “make a dough that is soft and supple, tacky but not sticky”. I like to finish it off by hand for a few seconds for a smooth dough.

It should pass the windowpane test.

Lightly oil a large bowl – I use this dough rising bucket from King Arthur Flour – roll the dough around in the oil, and cover with a large plate or lid.

Let sit at room temperature for two hours. If the dough doubles before two hours are up (mine had doubled at one hour) …

… remove it from the bowl, knead very lightly to degas (you don’t want to “punch down” dough as old recipes tell you to do; it’s too harsh), and return it to the bowl.

When the two hours are up or the dough has doubled again …

… remove the dough and divide it into six 4-ounce (or nine 2 2/3-ounce for small rolls) pieces. Because you may have had to add flour or water when kneading the dough, I like to weigh it before dividing, then divide the weight of the dough by the number of rolls I want. I’m always very excited when the dough weighs exactly what it should. Mine weighs exactly 48 ounces! (Remember, I doubled the recipe.)

Here I am weighing the individual rolls.

I was surprised, however, when the last roll weighed in at only 3.75 ounces, even after I’d weighed the first eleven twice each and they were all exactly 4 ounces. What this tells me is my scale is not as precise as I’d like it to be. I just took about .05 ounces off the five rolls that looked the biggest and added it to the runt.

Form the pieces into individual rolls. To do this, pinch the dough together on one side …

… creating and smoothing a seam, whilst creating surface tension on the opposite side.

Turn over and smooth into a round with your hands, seam side down.

When all the rolls have been created …

… cover with a tea towel and let rest for 10 minutes. Prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment or a Silpat and misting lightly with oil.

Shape the rolls into kaiser rolls by using a kaiser roll cutter or by using this shaping method. (It was very hard for me to get pictures of this, so I suggest you read the book for a much better explanation.) Roll each roll into a rope about 8″ long.

Tie the rope into a simple knot.

Tuck the ends of the knot into the middle of the roll. (I didn’t get a good picture of this.) Tray the rolls, cut or prettier side down.

Cover with a couple of layers of tea towels and let rise for 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit at this point. Turn the rolls over. If you want to seed your rolls, mist lightly with water and sprinkle with poppy and/or sesame seeds.

Cover again, and let rise for another 30 to 45 minutes, or until doubled from their original size.

Peter recommends spraying the walls of the oven with water just after putting the rolls in, but I used a different technique of his and instead poured 1 cup of hot water into a cast iron pan I keep on the bottom shelf of my oven. If you go the water-in-pan method of creating steam, make sure the pan was preheated with the oven. Put the rolls into the oven and steam using one of those methods, then bake for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, rotate to the pan and reduce the heat to 400 degrees, then bake another 15 to 30 minutes for large rolls (less for small rolls), or until golden brown.

Transfer to a cooling rack and cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Here are the veggie burgers I made; I baked them in the toaster oven.

A closeup of one of the rolls …

… and the crumb.

And here’s my burger …

… and my whole meal.

As you can see in the last picture, I also made Bianca’s deviled eggs, and they are amazing! They really do taste like the real thing and were at least as easy to make.

I probably can’t get away without posting any kitten pictures, but since this has been such a long, photo-heavy post, I’m going to restrain myself to just one.

Okay, two, because Gomez started to yawn and it was funny.

I hope all of my fellow Americans had a happy and safe Fourth of July.

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VeganDad’s Meatloaf

I’m definitely through with that pesky nausea. I’ve been eating like a champ. In fact, I seem to be eating even more than usual, possibly to make up for all the calories I missed when I was ill. Also, the Mid-Atlantic is currently suffering wild weather fluctuations, which is fairly typical for May but still annoying. This pattern has been on repeat for a couple of weeks: Saturday it was in the 80s and sunny – I got sunburned driving around in my convertible – then Sunday was mild and cloudy, Monday was cool and rainy, and today it is DOWNRIGHT FREEZING. So between my recently ravenous state, an invigorating swim this afternoon, and an unseasonably cold and rainy day today, this evening’s stroll through my starred Google Reader posts for dinner ideas ended with VeganDad’s Cajun Meatloaf: hearty comfort food fits the bill.

VeganDad’s recipe calls for 2 packages of tempeh and I only had one. I did have, however, leftover grated Tofurkey Italian sausage links, which I’d used in lasagne on Sunday and really wanted to use up. So after looking over VeganDad’s recipe, I went into the kitchen and figured I’d just throw together what I had in a dish “inspired by” VeganDad. Later when I went back to look at his original, I realized I’d actually followed it pretty faithfully, so I’m not taking any credit for this. But believe me, I’d like to: the texture was perfect. This was probably the most successful “meatloaf” I’ve ever made. Not that I’m surprised – VeganDad’s recipes are always a guaranteed success, aren’t they?

Here’s what I used:
1 package tempeh
about 2 links Tofurkey Italian sausage links
1 onion
4 cloves garlic
3/4 cup vital wheat gluten
1/2 cup whole wheat panko
about 1 cup marinara sauce (also left over from the lasagne and needing to be used up)
2 Tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
several strong shakes Tabasco (to appeal to Mark, who has been drinking eating about a bottle of this stuff every other day lately)

For the glaze:
3/4 cup ketchup
6 Tbsp brown sugar
several more strong shakes Tabasco
pinch salt

I used a mini-chopper to grate the sausage, tempeh, garlic, and onion, and I just whisked the glaze together without cooking and glazed the unbaked loaves. I baked them covered at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about half an hour, then uncovered for another 20 minutes or so. I wasn’t really keeping track.

I also loved VeganDad’s “individual meatloaf” idea, which makes for easy serving. I made 8 fist-sized, egg-shaped individual loaves and put four into each of two small glass loaf pans (see first photo). I served with roasted potatoes, peas, and some kale chips. Tonight was the first time I’ve ever made kale chips, which is weird (why haven’t I made them before today?) but true. I was surprised that I didn’t love them – I found them bitter – although I compulsively ate them despite not really liking them, which is strange.

Last night I got to attend an artisan bread baking class with Peter Reinhart.

I tend to get so caught up in the picture-taking process that I don’t pay real attention to what’s going on in front of the camera, and I didn’t want to miss anything Peter said, and I didn’t want to be obnoxious, so I didn’t take my “real” camera. All I got, therefore, was this iPhone picture, which I had to crop.

I wish I had a better picture or two, but I’m actually glad I didn’t take my camera because I know myself and I know I would have missed a lot of what he said if I’d been messing with it. If you ever have a chance to attend one of Peter’s classes, I strongly urge you to do so. He’s full of knowledge, he’s so enthusiastic about bread, he’s funny, he’s nice, and he just genuinely wants to teach others everything he knows. Very inspirational. What I liked and disliked about the class is probably completely backwards from everyone else in the class though! The one bad thing about the class? The bread! I knew this going in, of course, so I wasn’t surprised, but most of the loaves he made were from enriched dough, which means milk, butter, and/or eggs. I’ve mentioned that I was a tester for his new book, Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day, so I have made just about all the loaves he made in the class (the only one I didn’t test was the challah, which I felt had too many eggs to warrant a vegan’s perspective on testing), and I know they are all DELICIOUS. But of course, although he says in his books you can use non-dairy milk, etc., he wasn’t using it in the class, so I had to pass on all the samples except the French bread. This was heartbreaking because they smelled and looked soooo good. I was especially drooling over that babka that he’s glazing in the photo, because my vegan rendition of it was amazing (use silken tofu for the eggs). In fact, I’m going to have to make it this weekend.

What I liked most about the class was all the things that went wrong. Which may sound weird, but hear me out. I’m a fairly experienced baker, and I’ve made most of Peter’s breads, and often everything goes exactly as it should. But it’s not unusual for something to go wrong. So what I got the most out of during the class was watching Peter adapt to problems that arose. I think you learn much more from mistakes than you do perfection. The ovens in the classroom were terrible: they baked unevenly and not at the temperature on their knobs. Undaunted, Peter showed us how to deal with that: by rotating the loaves, covering them with aluminum foil, telling us at what point in the baking process it was safe to lower the temperature of the oven. That’s the sort of thing it’s hard to learn from books, which tend to assume perfect conditions. The doughs were mixed the day before by the store’s staff, and the first batch of lean dough (which is what I could eat) didn’t rise well and didn’t spring much in the oven, and basically came out dense and not what Peter was going for. Which was too bad because I was really hungry for that sample after jealously having to pass on the thumbprint rolls and sticky buns. But that gave Peter the opportunity to discuss what might be wrong with it and how we would avoid or deal with it. (After trying a single bite of the finished loaf, he realized the problem was too much salt. I scarfed down my sample anyway.)

And I know I’m really going to seem perverse, but my favorite moment was when he broke the Kitchen Aid mixer. Okay, it very well may have been having problems before he used it (I’m sure it wasn’t really his fault), and I’m sure he uses Kitchen Aids in just about all of his classes without incident, but I’ve mentioned a few times how many problems I have had trying to mix dough in a Kitchen Aid mixer (as I mentioned in just my last post, I destroyed two of them in a year), so I felt vindicated seeing Peter struggle with one as well. My reaction to my final broken Kitchen Aid was to (make Mark) buy Hieronymous, the trusty Bosch Universal Mixer, but I really liked having the opportunity to see Peter react to a broken mixer. Which was basically to not react: he happily mixed the dough by hand. What’s great about the recipes in Artisan Breads Every Day is, with the refrigerated fermentation method, you barely need to knead, so a mixer isn’t really saving you that much time or effort anyway. Peter removed all of the fear of hand mixing that I somewhat irrationally have by showing how easy it really is. So I’m glad the mixer broke. For those recipes, it’s probably not even worth dirtying Hieronymous.

Well that’s my probably-overlong review of the class. Peter’s touring around the States a bit right now; if he shows up in or near your town and you like bread at all, I definitely recommend you go.

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New York-style Whole Wheat Pizza Dough, and finished pizzas

One of the first posts I made on this blog was for pizza dough, which is appropriate because I love pizza more than just about any food. I’ve been using a different crust than that of my original post lately, though, although it’s still one from my bread-baking hero Peter Reinhart (who is teaching a class I’m attending next week and I’m very excited!), so when I made a new batch this week, I thought I’d write it up for the ole blog.

This recipe is from Peter’s pizza book, American Pie, which, like all of his books, is amazing and I urge you to buy it if you are anywhere near as obsessed with pizza as I am. One of the reasons I wanted to make this post, though, is this is the only one of Peter’s books I have that does not list weights for all ingredients, and I only bake by weight, so I wanted to finally permanently convert it to weight measurements and write it down. It’s the New York-style crust from that book, although instead of bread flour, I use white whole wheat. Which means I’m eating healthy when I eat an entire pizza every weekend, right?

Because I really want you to buy Peter’s books and because I have a lot of respect for him (and most cookbook authors), I am reluctant to post his recipes, but since it is available here, I’ve decided it’s okay in this case. I’ve tried most of the doughs in this book and they are all good, but this one is probably my favorite because he says it’s the crust you find all college towns across the US, and who doesn’t think pizza never tasted better than it did at 3 am in college? Well, I’m convinced that my pizza does actually beat that of Pizza Palace (my local pizza joint during college) and you don’t need 13 beers to think so.

Whole Wheat New York-style Pizza Dough

Okay, I confess. Another reason I’m making this post is to show off the might of my mixer, Hieronymous. Hieronymous is a Bosch Universal Mixer (and by the way, if this post convinces you you need one, Pleasant Hill Grain, to whom I’ve linked, are terrific people to buy from). After destroying two Kitchen Aid mixers within the course of a single year by overworking them, I made Mark give me Hieronymous for Christmas a couple of years ago. I like to make a triple – yes, triple – batch of pizza dough at a time, which means I only have to make it every couple of months. I’m including the tripled weights for my own reference. Don’t try making that amount in a Kitchen Aid, unless you are looking for an excuse to buy a Bosch. I’ve included the volume and weight measurements for a single batch, but please do yourself a favor and buy a scale if you have any interest in bread baking.

Single Batch, Volume Single Batch, Weight Triple Batch, Weight Ingredient
5 1/2 cups 22.5 oz 60 oz white whole wheat flour (or bread flour)
2 tsp .5 oz 1.5 oz salt
1 1/2 tsp .2 oz .6 oz yeast*
3 Tbsp .8 oz 2.5 oz olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp .7 oz 2 oz sugar or honey (read: agave nectar)
1 3/4 cup (or a little more) 14 oz 42 oz water**

* I replace the yeast for a single batch with the discard from my sourdough starter. I do this more so as not to waste the starter (which would otherwise be thrown away) than for the flavor, although I’ll take sourdough flavor any way I can get it. So for my tripled batch, I used .4 oz. yeast + about 1/2 cup sourdough starter discard.

** Whole wheat flour (red more so than white) absorbs more water than white flour, so you may end up needing to use more than what Peter calls for. I’ve compensated above by using slightly less flour instead of more water in the tripled batch; you may need to adjust the water or flour slightly in the single batch.

Weigh or measure the flour into the mixer bowl. Here’s Hieronymous (or his bowl, anyway)!

Weigh or measure the salt; add to the flour.

Weigh or measure the yeast; add to the flour. Salt kills yeast, so try to add it to the bowl somewhere the salt is not.

Weigh or measure the olive oil; add to the flour.

Weigh or measure the agave nectar or sugar; add to the flour. (Tip: weighing or measuring the olive oil before the agave nectar makes the agave nectar easier to transfer to the mixing bowl.)

Hieronymous’s mixing bowl with the ingredients so far (including my sourdough starter for some of the yeast):

Weigh or measure the water then add to the mixing bowl. Here is Hieronymous heroically handling ingredients nearly to the rim of his bowl, and no, my friends, he will not struggle!

Hieronymous is now ready to go!

Mix on low speed for about two minutes, until the dough starts to form a rough ball.

Let rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, find storage containers for the dough and spray each with olive oil. You are not supposed to reuse and freeze containers like these Earth Balance containers, but they happen to be the perfect size for my pizza doughs. Peter suggests making three 12-ounce crusts from a single batch of this dough (which will make three 12″ pizzas), but instead I make five crusts per single batch (they end up being between 7 and 8 ounces each) for individually sized pizzas. So I had to find 15 containers. When selecting containers, keep in mind that the dough will probably double in the refrigerator, however, it won’t grow in the freezer, so to save freezer space, you could freeze them in small containers and transfer them to larger ones when you move them to the refrigerator the night before baking. That’s too much effort for me.

Resume mixing on medium-low or medium speed for 5 minutes, adding flour or water by the tablespoon if necessary to obtain a tacky but not sticky dough.

Sprinkle some flour on a workspace and dump the dough onto it, coating in just enough of the flour to keep it from sticking.

Divide the dough into equal parts.

Here are all my individual dough pieces waiting to be shaped:

Round each piece, pinching the dough together at the bottom to create surface tension, as if you were making a roll.

Pop the rounded dough into an individual container and roll it around in the olive oil to coat.

Close each container and immediately place the number of crusts you want to make in the next three days in the refrigerator. Promptly freeze the rest.

The dough will stay good in the refrigerator for 3 days, so move as many as you need from the freezer sometime between the night before up to three days before you plan to use it. I assume that most weekends we will end up having pizza, but it could end up being for lunch or dinner on any day, so I just move two containers to the fridge on Friday night. And if we haven’t eaten them by Monday, we have pizza for dinner on Monday night.

My mother-in-law and her sister are visiting us this weekend. When they were here earlier in the week, I promised them pizza this weekend, so after whipping up the dough as documented above on Wednesday night, I had a little pizza party tonight. An hour before you’d like to serve the pizza, turn your oven up as high as it will go; mine goes to 550 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have a pizza stone (which I strongly recommend), preheat it as well. Remove the dough containers from the refrigerator and allow them to come to room temperature. This picture shows how much the dough has risen; sometimes it rises so much it pushes out of the container, but this batch has restrained itself a bit. Keep the containers covered while they sit.

Meanwhile, prepare the pizza sauce. Heat some olive oil in a small saucepan, then add a few cloves minced or pressed garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. Then add some crushed or diced tomatoes (I like Muir Gardens fire-roasted crushed tomatoes) and some freshly ground salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, them remove from the heat. You can puree it if you’d like; I always do when I used diced tomatoes and only sometimes do when I used crushed tomatoes.

The toppings I prepared were: Daiya mozzarella, caramelized onions, sliced heirloom tomatoes, vegan pepperoni, ground vegan Italian sausage, sliced jalapenos, and various herbs and spices. Usually when we have company, I do a prepare-your-own-pie thing, so here I’ve made a little assembly line of the various toppings.

After the oven has been heating and the crusts have been resting for an hour, dust a pizza peel with semolina or cornmeal. If you don’t have a pizza peel, you can use the back of a cookie sheet. I once read somewhere that cornmeal acts like little casters, rolling your pizza off the peel and into your oven, which was an image I liked. You can’t actually see the semolina I used in this picture, but believe me, it’s there. Don’t use too much because it’ll just end up burning in the oven, but use enough to keep the dough from sticking to the peel or cookie sheet.

Sprinkle a moderate amount of flour on a work surface. Remove a single pizza dough from its container, flatten into a small circle, and place in the sprinkled dough. Flip it over to coat both sides in flour, but try to only use as much flour as you need to prevent the dough from sticking to the work surface or your hands. If the dough springs back after you roll it out, let it rest for 5 minutes then try again.

Use a rolling pin to roll out a pizza crust to your desired thickness and width, flipping the dough several times and rubbing it in the dough to prevent sticking on both sides.

Transfer the rolled-out dough to your prepared peel or cookie sheet; you can pick it up and place it there or just sort of drag it onto the peel.

Top with some sauce, leaving room at the edges for holding. My sauce was pretty thick tonight for some reason; often it is much thinner than this. Don’t worry about thinnish sauce – it will thicken as it cooks. You may need less sauce than you think, as well. Don’t add so much it makes the dough soggy. This is really almost too much sauce.

Sprinkle with herbs like oregano, red chili flakes, dried basil, etc.

I like to bury my toppings under the “cheese” because they tend to burn if you put them on top of the cheese. I’m usually a minimalist when it comes to pizza. Even before I was vegan, I preferred a simple cheese pizza, light on the cheese. As I was entertaining tonight and had prepared several different toppings, I ended up piling some of all of them on my pizza, but I don’t really recommend this as it makes the pizza too heavy.

Transfer to the oven. If you don’t have a pizza stone, you can bake the pizza on a pizza pan or the back of a cookie sheet – the same one on which you built the pizza if you don’t have a peel. I’m a snob and don’t think I could ever go back to baking pizza on anything other than my Fibrament baking stone. I use it for bread as well, and in fact, it never leaves my oven. It does take a long time to heat up (45 minutes, at least), but it makes for a perfect crust.

Bake until done. That’s pretty nebulous, I suppose, but how long it takes will depend on the size and thickness of your pizza, the type and amount of toppings, how hot your oven gets, and probably a host of other factors. It’s a quick process, though, possibly a lot quicker than you think. Mine usually take 5 minutes.

Commercial vegan cheese probably isn’t the healthiest thing in the world for you, but other than that, if you use whole wheat flour for the crust, this not the diet nightmare that most pizzas are, so feel free to indulge every weekend!

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Bread Bag Tutorial

Bread is sort of my “thing”. I think I’m invited to some parties just because it’s assumed I’ll bring homemade bread. When I go to friends’ houses, I’m often bearing the gift of bread. As I like to give away bread, I bought special paper bread bags from King Arthur Flour a few years ago, to have something to transport the loaves in. They were good bags, with tiny holes to allow air circulation, which is good for crusty breads, and they came in packs of 100. I realized the other day that I was just about out of the paper bags so I went to King Arthur to order some more and was dismayed to find they no longer sell them. Thus began the great hunt for paper bread bags. I can’t find them anywhere in packs of less than 500, and even when I thought maybe I’d just buy 500 and sell half of them on eBay, none of them seemed as good as the kind I had. I was beginning to get very annoyed.

My googling for paper bread bags gave me the idea, however, to make cloth bags. Since I’m already making cloth gift bags, I don’t know why this thought didn’t occur to me earlier. The best part about this idea is the fact that linen tea towels are the perfect size for making bread bags. That’s my favorite part because it means no cutting – I can’t cut in a straight line even with a rotary cutter – and no finishing seams! AND I get to shop for vintage tea towels, which is fun!

This is a very quick, easy, inexpensive, and useful craft item. If you don’t bake your own bread, these bags are good storage for artisan breads you buy in a bakery as well. As I’ve said before, I’m AWFUL at sewing, so if I can do this, you can too.

Bread Bag

1 linen tea towel (14″ – 18″ wide by 30″ – 36″ tall)
string or ribbon
large safety pin

To determine how much string you need for a regular artisan loaf bag, multiply the width of the towel by two and add 10″. So if your towel is 16″ wide, multiply 16 x 2 to get 32, then add 10 to get 42″. If you are making a baguette bag, just add 10″ to the width of the towel, so for a 16″ wide towel, cut 26″ string.

Wash and iron your tea towel. Now, ironing is something I never do. I don’t even know where this iron came from; I found it in the laundry room and I think it’s the landlord’s. But some of my towels were pretty wrinkled and I have a hard enough time trying to sew in a straight line on smooth fabric, so I figured I’d better iron them.

Unfortunately, I made a horrible mistake in deciding to iron on the dining room table (I put a bath towel on it)…when I picked up the bath towel, I discovered I’d done THIS to the table:

Which is bad news because Fortinbras bought and refinished that table for me as a gift. I asked him what I should do and he said, “buy an ironing board like every other American; what’s wrong with you?!” He also said he’d look at the photo I sent him and call me back with advice but I haven’t head from him since so I think he’s plotting ways to strangle me. (Actually, F-dog is extremely busy right now and I shouldn’t have been bothering him in the first place.) So, um, iron your towel some different way than what I did. As for me, I’ve learned my lesson and will never iron anything ever again.

So anyway, here’s my ironed tea towel. This tutorial is for a regular bread bag. I’ll explain the how to make a baguette bag at the end (it’s actually even easier).

Fold the top and bottom edges over (wrong sides together), by about an inch (depending on how wide your string is), and pin. Note that the top of some tea towels is already folded over like this so you can insert a dowel for hanging. If your towel is like this, half your work is done for you: just pin the bottom edge.

Sew close to the original edge.

When you’ve done both the top and the bottom, fold the towel in half, top to bottom, right sides together, and pin.

Sew these two seams, being very careful to start at your first seam, that is, don’t sew the loop you created above closed. Look where my needle is in the picture and start sewing there.

Here is the bag with both sides sewn up:

Here’s a closeup of the top edge, you can see where my side seams start below the top hem:

Stick a large safety pin through one end of your string. It may help to put a bit of tape on the end of the string first so it doesn’t unravel.

Insert the safety pin into one of of the top hems.

Holding the safety pin through the fabric in one hand, scrunch the fabric onto the pin, then pull the pin through a bit.

Keep going until the safety pin comes out the other side.

Then stick it in the other hem and repeat the process.

Pull the string so the ends are even and knot the ends.

Turn the bag right side out, and you’re done!

To close, just pull the strings.

To make a baguette bag, hem just the top of the towel as described above, then fold the towel in half lengthwise (right sides together) and sew the side and the bottom. Insert the string in the same fashion. These bags won’t be long enough for a real French baguette, but they are long enough for baguettes made in most home ovens, and they’d probably be plenty big enough for storing leftovers of store-bought baguettes.

Here are all the bags I made today. My favorite towels are the souvenir travel towels. I just got two map of Scotland towels today, too, that I’m excited to turn into bags.

Here are some loaves of Hamelman’s pain au levain (which is fancy French for sourdough) I baked today:

I finally got an oval brotform:

Let bread cool completely before storing if you can, although linen will breath enough that I’ll feel confident slipping hot loaves in when I’m in a hurry to get somewhere with them, which is often.

Now, my theory of these bags is this: I’ve bought (and am still buying) a bunch of old tea towels for a couple of bucks each, which I’m going to make into bags in batches as I have a chance. I can probably make 5 or 6 in an hour. I plan to make an initial stash of 25 to 30 bags, a few of which I’ll keep for my own use, but most of which I’ll use for transporting bread to other people. The first time I take a bread bag to someone, it will be a gift: they keep it and use it (I hope). There are some people that routinely get bread from me; these people would eventually end up with more bread bags than they can use, so they can just start returning the extras to me to be refilled. Most of the bags will just be given away, though, which is good, because making these bags is the perfect craft for me: it’s cheap, it’s quick, and although it involves the sewing machine (usually a huge no-no in Renae crafts), it’s kind of foolproof. So I’ll just keep an eye out for cute vintage towels, buy them as I see them, and periodically make a bunch of new bags.

I used my two Australia bags today in honor of the fact that one year ago today, I was in Australia.

I think I might also branch out and make potato and onion bags as well.

Bonus Brachtune picture:

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Boston Baked Beans and Boston Brown Bread

Some weekend mornings I wake up, realize I don’t need to be anywhere for the whole day, and wonder what kind of slow-cooking meal I can cook at my leisure all day – especially when it’s freezing outside and I want to warm up the kitchen. This morning was such a morning and I immediately thought of Boston baked beans and Boston brown bread. As many of you – at least the Americans – may know, baked beans and steamed brown bread were New England staples since Colonial times, traditionally cooking all day in Puritan homes and served for Saturday dinner. In fact, beans played such an important role that Boston is sometimes called Beantown. A little googling just now informs me that the Puritans learned how to make beans from the Native Americans, eventually replacing the maple syrup and bear fat in their recipe with molasses and salt pork. You don’t have to slaughter a bear to make my version, you’ll be glad to know. Nor a pig; I don’t even know what salt pork is though I assume it’s just pork that’s been cured with salt, which I know was a popular thing to do in Colonial times.

If you search for Boston baked bean recipes, you’ll find that nearly all of them call for ketchup. I find this bizarre. We have a baked bean recipe in my family (though we’re not from New England; most my ancestors hovered pretty near the Mason Dixon line); I believe it was my great Aunt Joyce’s but my mother would have to confirm. I don’t have access to it, unfortunately, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t contain ketchup. Ketchup sounds like a strange addition to me, and in fact, Google tells me that under no circumstances should ANY tomato products go into traditional Boston baked beans. I couldn’t resist putting tomato sauce in mine, though, and obviously I’m not putting pork in it, so my version isn’t traditional. It’s traditional in spirit though, in that I’ve been slowly cooking it all day and am anticipating an unassuming, filling, nutritious meal.

Boston Baked Beans

1 lb dried navy or other small white beans (I measured this for you in case you don’t have a scale and it’s about 2 1/4 cups. But you should get a scale.)
3-4 cups bean cooking liquid (and/or water)
1 onion, diced
3 large cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 cup molasses
1 small can (8 oz) tomato sauce
3 Tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp vinegar (I used apple cider)
1 Tbsp liquid smoke
1 Tbsp dry mustard
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
2 bay leaves

Soak the beans overnight, or do a quick soak, which is what I did: cover beans with water …

… bring to a boil and cook two minutes, then remove from heat and soak for an hour.

Cover soaked beans with a 2-3 inches of water, bring to a boil, then simmer for an hour or two, or until tender enough to easily bite but overly soft. Check periodically and add more water if necessary.

Drain beans, reserving liquid. Also, preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Smash the garlic.

Dice the onion.

Put the beans and the rest of the ingredients in a bean pot, Dutch oven, or other oven-proof dish. (Have I mentioned that I’m in love with my new Dutch oven?)

Stir to combine.

Cover and bake 5 to 8 hours. Check on the beans periodically, stirring and adding more liquid if necessary.

Remove from oven. These could also have been cooked in a pressure cooker for 45 minutes, or in a crockpot all day.

Boston Brown Bread

I followed this recipe from Epicurious exactly (other than substituting oil for the butter and and non-dairy milk for the milk); it got really high ratings and looked good and simple, so I figured there was no need to change it up. I probably should have used blackstrap molasses but all I had on hand was mild flavoured. It turned out fine.

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup whole rye flour
1/2 cup corn meal
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup non-dairy milk (I used hemp; I’m a freakin’ hippie.)
1/3 cup molasses
1/2 cup dried currants or raisins

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Whisk together the dry ingredients.

Whisk in the molasses and non-dairy milk, then fold in the currants or raisins.

Rub or brush the interior of a 28-oz aluminum can (from which the top but not the bottom has been removed) generously with oil, then pour in the batter. If you use different sized cans or change the quantities of the ingredients, just be sure to fill the can(s) no more than two thirds full as the bread will rise quite a bit.

Cover tightly with foil and secure with a rubber band (or tie with string).

Place an in an oven-safe dish or pot and fill with boiling water (that electric kettle of mine sure is handy!) to a point halfway up the can.

Put in the oven and steam for 2 to 3 hours. Check periodically and add more water to the pot if necessary. The original recipe said to steam for two hours, removing when an inserted skewer comes out clean, but I found it took closer to three hours to be done and it was still quite moist – almost too moist to eat easily. So next time I might cut back on the liquid just a smidge. Let cool in can for 30 to 60 minutes. (The original recipe said an hour, but I was already behind schedule because it was steaming for longer than it said, so I probably only cooled for half an hour.)

Slide out of can. Mine slid right out, but if yours doesn’t, just remove the bottom of the can and push it through.

Slice to serve. I was so caught up in making the beans and bread, as well as making a batch of tofu at the same time, that I completely forgot to make a vegetable to serve with them, so I just grabbed some corn, or as the Indians call it, maize, from the freezer. Mark informed me this was really good, and that he experienced several different taste sensations, including sweet, bitter, etc., terming it very “mouth palate-y”. I think that’s good anyway.

Here is a carrot sunflower bread I also baked today:

I think Whole Foods should start paying me to be a roving advice giver. I don’t know what it is about me, but people are compelled to ask me for help in grocery stores. I have lost count of the number of times people have randomly asked me what a certain vegetable looks like and where they can find it. Fortunately for them, I probably know better than most customers – and possibly employees – what everything in the produce department is, but I don’t know how they know that. Some guy asked me to help him figure out if he’s allergic to a certain detergent today; that was new. And also today a lady asked me what kind of tofu she should buy and how she should prepare it. I wasn’t even buying tofu. I mean, THIS is what I look like:

Would you approach this person and solicit her advice? Does this look like “Tofu Expert” to you? (Okay, I wasn’t wearing the hat in Whole Foods – today.) The weird thing is I am a tofu, and a produce, expert, but I don’t think I necessarily give off that vibe just by looking at me. Usually it’s produce questions, though. I’ve explained what shallots, sunchokes, kumquats, horseradish, chard, and umpteen other vegetables are, where they are located, how to tell if they’re fresh, and how to cook them. In fact, I’ve only ever been unable to answer one question: once, in Wegmans, someone asked me where to find some sort of meat and I told her I didn’t even know where the meat department is, which is true, although I know Wegmans like the back of my hand, so you’d think I would know where it was if only to avoid it. Both Whole Foods and Wegmans should at least give me a discount on my bill for all the customers I’ve helped for them. I guess I just find it strange because it would never occur to me to ask a random shopper questions like those. At best, I’d ask an employee where something was if I couldn’t find it. But I’d never walk up to someone and say, “hey, do you know how to cook tofu?” I really don’t mind, though. Elsewhere, it’s rare I’m asked questions I actually know the answers to, so I enjoy feeling useful for once. I just think it’d be awesome if WF and Wegmans rewarded me for my helpfulness!

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Baking during a snowy weekend

We are trapped: buried under more than a foot of snow! Aargh!

Nothing to do in that case except bake, I guess. Here’s what I’ve made this weekend:

Sparkling cranberries.

Spoon cookies.

Salted caramels (made with MimicCreme and Earth Balance buttery sticks). This was the first time I’ve ever really made candy and they turned out amazing despite the fact I didn’t really trust my thermometer, as it’s not a candy thermometer. But I stopped when it said 248 degrees (I also tested by dropping a bit into ice water and checking the consistency) and it was perfect! I topped them with extra salt (I actually used Maldon, which is my favorite salt; I can’t afford fleur de sel) and my only regret is I wasn’t more heavy-handed with the salt because some pieces didn’t get any and the pieces that did are sooo good.

Crusty cheese bread (using Follow Your Heart cheese) from Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day.

Pretzel from Artisan Breads.

San Francisco Sourdough from Artisan Breads…proofing in a brotform.

Sourdough after baking; I’d say I got some oven spring:

We really are trapped; this is our street. It may not look too bad to owners of four-wheel drive cars or SUVs, but we both have rear wheel drive cars. Mine’s completely useless in the snow and I don’t even try; Mark’s is bigger, heavier, and a little better, but he couldn’t make it up the second hill in this picture and had to turn back home. He was trying to get to Wegmans to buy some orange juice because he’s drunk a gallon of it since Thursday.

Mark’s decidedly less healthy alternative to orange juice, chilling.

If we lived on the side street next to our house instead of the main road, we’d be stuck here for weeks!

It was really hard for me to walk around the yard other than where Mark shoveled because the snow was deeper than the height of my boots:

It took a lot of effort, but I made it over to the pool. Man, I miss summer. This picture is just plain depressing.

Our patio table looks like a cake:

I was very fortunate in that Mark decided that shoveling all the snow himself would suffice for his workout since he couldn’t make it to the gym. I thought he looked particularly cute here surveying all his hard work:

The sunshine today really belies the intensity of yesterday’s storm.

We took Brachtune out briefly to let her see the snow.

She didn’t like it.

But as soon as we took her back in, she thought maybe she’d like to go out again.


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