Step On It

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No one is sure about the birth of Bialys (pronounced be-Al-ee), a little Polish roll with an onion and poppy seed filled pocket. In her book, The Bialy Eaters, Mimi Sheraton speculates that a pretzel like bread fell on the floor and was unwittingly stepped on. Not wanting to waste precious dough, the frugal baker filled it with onions and poppy seeds and baked it. Whatever the story may be, you’ll be running to try these savory, filled breads. Just try not to step on any. The recipe follows:

Makes 12 Bialys

Dough

4 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons Kosher salt

1 tablespoon sorghum or sugar

2 teaspoons rapid-rise yeast

2 cups warm water

Filling

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 large onions, sliced thin

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

Instructions

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, salt, and yeast. Stir in sorghum or sugar and water. Mix until no dry bits of flour remain. Dough will be quite loose and wet. Using a wet hand, fold dough by pulling dough up and stretching it over itself. Turn bowl a quarter-turn and repeat. Continue to turn and fold dough for 3 minutes. Cover dough with plastic wrap and let rise until almost doubled in size, about an hour, maybe a little longer if your kitchen is cold.

Meanwhile, pour oil into a large skillet and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let cool and stir in poppy seeds.

Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly flour parchment. Transfer dough to a floured surface and gently press into a rectangle. Divide dough in half and then in half again. Portion each quarter into 3 pieces. Form dough into rough ball by folding edges of dough into the center. Arrange 6 balls, seam side down, on each baking sheet. Lightly flour tops of dough and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Proof for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions. Heat oven to 475 degrees. On lightly floured surface, gently press each dough ball into a 5-inch circle (flour your hands if dough is sticky). Return to baking sheets, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and proof until dough is puffy, 15 to 20 minutes.

Grease and flour a 1-cup measuring cup. Firmly press cup into center of each dough round until cup touches sheet to make pocket for filling. Cup should not tear through bottom of dough. Grease and flour cup as needed if dough is sticking.

Divide onion-poppy seed mixture evenly between rounds (start with a heaping tablespoon per Bialys and then fill in the rest). Bake until spotty golden brown, about 20 minutes, rotating and turning baking sheets halfway through baking. Transfer Bialys to cooling rack for 10 minutes before serving.

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Snack Time

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Crackers make great snacks, but they also make great diagnostic tools for people with Sjogren’s Syndrome. People who have Sjogren’s Syndrome suffer from white blood cells attacking their exocrine glands, specifically their salivary glands. One test that doctors use to diagnose this drying disease is having patients try to eat a couple of crackers. If the patients’ saliva dries up very quickly, then they might have Sjogren’s Syndrome. I am a baker and not a doctor, so please don’t take this as sound medical advice; it’s more for interesting reading. If you want something more interesting to do with your crackers, eat a couple without drinking anything and then try to whistle a tune. You’re welcome. The recipe follows:

Makes About 100 1 x 2 inch Crackers

Total Flour                                500 g                                     100%

All-Purpose Flour                     450 g                                      90%

Whole-Wheat Flour                   50 g                                       10%

Water                                       200 g                                       40%

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil                 50 g                                       10%

Unsalted Butter, soft                  25 g                                         5%

Kosher Salt                                10 g                                         2%

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl with a spatula until mixture starts to come together in a shaggy ball. Finish mixing dough by hand until dough comes together and no dry bits remain. Knead dough by hand for 2 to 3 minutes. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 450 degrees and place rack in middle position. Mount a pasta machine on your work surface. Cut dough into 4 equal pieces. Flour dough and run through pasta machine on widest setting. Continue rolling dough through until it is 1/8-inch thick (the width of a quarter). On my machine it’s a 5. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut dough into 1 x 2 inch pieces. I like to use a ravioli cutter because it’s fast and leaves a wavy pattern on the crackers, but you can use a knife. Transfer crackers to baking sheet, spacing 1/4-inch between crackers. Dock each cracker with the tines of a fork a couple of times to reduce air bubbles. Bake each tray, one at a time, for 9 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Crackers are ready when lightly brown around the edges. Remove tray from oven and transfer crackers to a cooling rack. Repeat with remaining crackers.

If you do not have a pasta machine, roll out dough with a rolling pin, letting dough rest if it won’t roll out to the necessary thinness.

One of the best things about crackers is playing around with all the fun things you can put into them. Here are two of my favorite variations:

Smoked Sea Salt and Rosemary

Substitute smoked sea salt for the Kosher salt and add 2 teaspoons minced, fresh rosemary.

Edible Flower

When rolling out the dough, spread edible flowers over half the dough. Fold the other half of the dough over the flowers and press down to seal. Run dough through pasta machine until you reach the necessary thinness.

Luck O’ the Irish

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Like most Old World meals, Irish Soda Bread grew out of poverty and what was available. Traditionally made with flour, soda, buttermilk, and salt, this loaf is still a humble indulgence. This version incorporates a small amount of cake flour to soften the crumb and is baked in a cast-iron skillet for a craggy, crunchy crust. You’ll feel the luck of the Irish when you take this golden-brown bread out of the oven. The recipe follows:

Makes 1

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup cake flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus 1 tablespoon melted

1 3/4 cups buttermilk

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Whisk flours, sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt together in a large bowl. Add softened butter and use fingers to rub it into flour until completely incorporated. Make well in center of flour mixture and add 1 1/2 cups buttermilk. Using a fork, work buttermilk into flour mixture until dough comes together in large clumps and no dry flour remains in bottom of bowl. Add up to 1/4 cup extra buttermilk if mixture is still dry. Use your hands to gently shape dough into a 6-inch round.

2. Transfer dough to a 12-inch cast-iron skillet (if you don’t have a cast-iron skillet, transfer dough to a baking sheet). Score a deep X on surface of loaf, and place in oven. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Remove from oven, brush with melted butter, and let cool at least 30 minutes.

Perfect with Irish Stew and a cold pint.

Go Focaccia Yourself

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Focaccia bread is a rustic Italian flatbread made with simple ingredients. Here it is topped with salt and rosemary, but other tasty toppings include olives, pancetta, anchovies, softened onions, or grapes. Traditionally, focaccia is baked straight on the hearth, but a good way to get a crisp crust at home is to bake it in cake pans. This version also takes advantage of using a “sponge” (a pre-fermented portion of the overall dough) to get even more flavor out of the finished bread. The recipe follows:

Makes 2   9-inch focaccia

Sponge

1/2 cup all-purpose flour                                                                                                                       1/3 cup warm water                                                                                                                               1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

Combine flour, water, and yeast in a small bowl and stir to combine and no dry bits of flour remain. Cover bowl tightly and leave out at room temperature overnight.

Dough

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for shaping                                                                       1 1/4 cups warm water                                                                                                                          1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast                                                                                               Kosher salt                                                                                                                                               4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil                                                                                                    2 teaspoons minced, fresh rosemary

Stir water, sponge, flour, and yeast in a large bowl until combined and no dry bits of flour remain. You may need to use your hands to finish mixing. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and let rest for 15 minutes.

Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of salt over dough and mix in using wet hands. Dough will be very wet and sticky. Cover bowl with kitchen towel and let rest for 30 minutes. To achieve the open and airy crumb that characterizes focaccia bread, it is best to use a gentle kneading method. After the first 30 minutes, get your hand wet and pull one side of the dough up and over itself. This is called a fold. Rotate the bowl 90 degrees and fold again. Do a total of 8 folds. Cover the bowl and let rest another 30 minutes. Fold dough another 8 times. Cover the bowl and let rest another 30 minutes. Fold dough another 8 times. Cover bowl and let rest for the last 30 minutes. To review, the dough will rise for a total of 2 hours, with 3 sessions of folding, every half hour.

One hour before baking, place a baking stone or overturned rimmed baking sheet on upper-middle rack of oven, and heat oven to 450 degrees.

Gently transfer dough to a floured work surface. Lightly flour top of dough and divide in half. Shape each piece of dough into a round by pulling edges of dough into the middle. Coat 2 9-inch cake pans with 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil each. Sprinkle each pan with 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt. Place round of dough in 1 pan, top side down, slide dough around pan to coat bottom and sides with oil, then flip over. Repeat with second piece of dough. Cover pans with kitchen towel and let rest for 5 minutes.

Using fingertips, gently press dough out toward edges of pan, taking care not to tear it. If dough resists, let sit another 5 minutes. Using a fork, poke entire surface or dough 20-25 times, popping any large bubbles. Sprinkle rosemary evenly over dough. Let rest until slightly bubbly, 5 to 10 minutes.

Place pans on baking stone or baking sheet and bake for 25-28 minutes, rotating pans halfway through, until tops are golden brown. Transfer pans to wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Take loaves out of pans and return to rack. Brush tops of bread with any remaining oil in pans. Let cool for 30 minutes. Tear bread apart and enjoy.

It’s Here

It’s here! Birdsong Bread: Methods and Recipes for Honest Bread is available on Amazon. Get all the bread recipes you love in one tasty collection. Below is a link to get you there:

http://www.amazon.com/Birdsong-Bread-Methods-Recipes-Honest-ebook/dp/B00NT9CWH8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1411509507&sr=8-1&keywords=birdsong+bread

Don’t have an ereader? That’s ok. You can still enjoy Birdsong Bread: Methods and Recipes for Honest Bread on your PC. Just follow the link to download the free Kindle app:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/digital/fiona/kcp-landing-page?ie=UTF8&ref_=klp_mn

Thank you for visiting my blog and for your support! Hope you enjoy the book.