Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Cooking with the kids

Spring Break kicked off yesterday in our house. A day off means that the afternoon will be spent cooking in the kitchen.

Anyway.... our experimenting afternoon found us in the land of bread. We're in the midst of an herb kick, and the recipe on hand was a nice, whole wheat bread blended with herbs fresh from the garden and a chunk from a red onion that had been sitting on the counter minding its own business.

Out comes the "big mixer," as it's named by the two younger cooks. It's a professional-grade stand mixer that has made whipping up a batch of yeast bread easier than ever imagined by our foremothers, who kneaded for days. The dough hook makes short work of blending and kneading. Because I "bloom" the yeast in the mixer's bowl, then toss in all the other ingredients, this only dirties up one vessel. Another bowl is oiled for the rising process.

In assembling our herb bread, we used the leaves from a five-inch sprig of rosemary, 2 sage leaves, about 2 tablespoons of finely chopped oregano, two cloves of crushed garlic, and 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion. (Although, I'll point out that the red onion went an unattractive gray during baking, so I'd use a regular white or yellow onion.)

Wonderfully easy, this recipe uses a mix of whole wheat and unbleached flour.

In a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer) mix 2 teaspoons sugar, 1 packet of instant yeast and 2 cups of really warm water. (The water has to be hot enough to activate the yeast, so shoot for 105 degrees). Let bloom for 10 minutes while you chop any herbs you want to include.

To the mixing bowl, 1 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil. Mix. Add 2 cups whole wheat flour and 1 cup unbleached flour. Start mixing on low. It will form a wet, sticky dough. You'll probably need to add about 1 more cup additional flour during the mixing process to get the dough to a state that's smooth and elastic. (If you've got a dough hook on your mixer, that process comes when it starts to "climb" up the hook.) Allow the dough hook to knead the bread about 5 minutes.
If you're kneading by hand on a floured board, work the dough about 10 minutes.

Put the dough in a large, oiled bowl and turn to coat the dough in oil. This keeps the surface from getting dry and crusty. Cover the bowl with a damp dishtowel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 90 minutes. Punch down the dough, then form it into a loaf. Put in a greased loaf pan, cover with a towel, then let it "proof" for 30 minutes before baking in a 350-degree oven.

Bake about 45 minutes to an hour, then remove to cool completely before slicing. The top will feel hard when you take it out of the oven, but as steam rises through the bread, it softens the crust. Cutting while the bread is still hot will leave you with a goopy mess, so be patient and let it cool.