Fall & French Bread
Fall is a great time for Chili, slow cooker stews, or just a nice charcuterie plate. All of which are yummy with some fresh French Bread. I have had good luck with the Classic Baguette recipe from King Arthur Baking, so I tried it again. I make the poolish the night before (around 5 or 6pm – before I get started on dinner) with the plan to cook it in time for an early dinner the next day. To do that, you need to get started at 7am the next day.
There are a lot of little steps to this one, so this is NOT ideal for a Saturday morning with a lot of activities. But if you know the next morning’s games are a washout, then game ON!
The only change I make to this recipe is for Step 12. I place the cast iron pan on the bottom rack of the oven while the oven heats in the bottom of the oven. And once I placed the bread in the oven, then I added 2 cups of ice cubes to the cast iron pan and shut the door quickly.
This recipe is a keeper, as long as you plan ahead of time for it and make your poolish. Enjoy!
Classic Baguette recipe from King Arthur Baking
I have always been a fan of Giada, and I really love her new holistic cookbook, Eat Better, Feel Better. So when I found this variation of her famous Lemon Ricotta Cookies I had to give them a try in the Delaney test kitchen.
I am typically the only pumpkin spice fan in my family because the flavor can be overwhelming, but these say Fall without being too much. I even got a thumbs up on this recipe from my anti-PSL husband.
These were super easy and are like little muffin tops. And at only 116 calories each, they are the perfect Fall cookie.
Pumpkin Ricotta Cookies
For The Cookies:
· 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
· 1 teaspoon baking powder
· 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
· 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
· 1 teaspoon salt
· ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
· 1 cup granulated sugar
· 1 cup brown sugar
· 2 eggs
· 1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
· 1/2 cup pureed pumpkin, such as Libby’s
For the Glaze:
· 1 ½ cups powdered sugar (confectioners’ sugar)
· 3 tablespoons water
· ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
· 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
· Pinch of salt
· Preheat the oven to 375°F. Prepare 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
· In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Set aside.
· In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating until incorporated, using a rubber spatula to scrape the sides if needed. Add the ricotta cheese and pumpkin, and beat to combine. Stir in the dry ingredients until just incorporated, being careful to not over-mix.
· Spoon the dough onto the baking sheets using 2 tablespoons for each cookie. Bake for 13-15 minutes until slightly golden at the edges. Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for 20 minutes.
· While the cookies cool, combine the powdered sugar, water, cinnamon, nutmeg and a pinch of salt in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Spoon about ½ teaspoon of the glaze onto each cooled cookie and use the back of the spoon to spread it to the edges. Let the glaze harden for about 2 hours. Pack the cookies in an airtight container.
Ghost Bread, or No-knead Ghost Fougasse
I saw this adorable recipe in my Insta feed from Simply So Good and had to give it a try in the Delaney test kitchen. Plus - I love learning new French words.
A Fougasse is a type of bread typically associated with Provence but found in other variations in other regions as well. Some versions are sculpted to resemble an ear of wheat.
These ghosts are "souper" cute for Halloween, and for dipping into soups or with pasta.
I’m listing the recipe as posted on simplysogood.com, but I’d like to make a few recommendations:
The recipe says to break the dough into 8-12 pieces for the “ghosts.” Maybe I let the dough sit in the fridge for tool long overnight, but I had a lot of dough. So I would say that it could make closer to 20 ghosts. Mine were just too big and as a result were too puffy and took too long to bake. They would have started to burn on the bottom before they were going to turn golden on top.
Also, the recipe doesn’t list a temperature for the oven. Depending on how hot your oven runs, I think 350 – 400F works great.
No-knead Ghost Fougasse
· 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
· 2 teaspoons salt
· 1 teaspoons yeast
· 1 teaspoon sugar
· 1 1/2 cups warm water
· 2 tablespoons olive oil
· 2 tablespoons butter melted
· Flakey sea salt optional
Part I: the Fougasse Dough
1. In a large mixing bowl combine flour, salt, yeast, and sugar. Stir to combine.
2. Add water and olive oil. Stir just until all the flour has been mixed in and no dry spots appear. The mixture will look kind of shaggy, but not too lumpy.
3. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 2-3 hours or until the dough has risen to double the size. Do not punch the dough down. Place in refrigerator overnight or at least 4 hours.
Part II: Shaping the Fougasse
1. Remove dough from the refrigerator and pour it onto a floured surface.
2. Divide the dough into 8-12 pieces depending on how large you'd like to fougasse. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes to make it easier to shape. Pull and shape the dough into an oval or round shapes.
3. Using a pizza wheel or sharp knife make slits in the dough. Pull and stretch the dough to create fun ghost shapes and faces. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Cover and let rise for 10-20 minutes. Bake in preheated oven for 12 minutes or until golden.
4. Remove from oven and brush with melted butter and flakey sea salt.
· Fougasse dough can be left to rise overnight and used without chilling.
· Chilling the dough makes shaping the fougasse easier.
Olive Oil Zucchini Bread
It is September and I still have some zucchinis coming from the garden, and so I continue to look for new recipes for them. I came across this one for Olive Oil Zucchini Bread on NYT Cooking and the ingredient list was intriguing – including Greek yogurt and lemon zest – which I thought could be interesting.
I love that this loaf is less sweet than other zucchini breads and muffins, and the lemon zest make it taste summery. I think I’ll make this as muffins next time so that I can take them on the run with me.
There’s a reason this has over 3,400 5-star reviews. It’s a more flavorful take on the traditional zucchini loaf. I should also mention that this was easy to make first thing in the morning and it was cooled and ready to eat before leaving for soccer games on a Saturday. Enjoy!
Olive Oil Zucchini Bread
· Butter, for the pan
· 1 ½ cups/185 grams grated zucchini
· ⅔ cup/140 grams light brown sugar
· ⅓ cup/80 milliliters olive oil (or other oil such as safflower or canola)
· ⅓ cup/80 milliliters plain Greek yogurt
· 2 large eggs
· 1 teaspoon/5 milliliters vanilla extract
· 1 ½ cups/190 grams all-purpose flour
· ½ teaspoon/3 grams salt
· ½ teaspoon/3 grams baking soda
· ½ teaspoon/2 grams baking powder
· 1 ½ teaspoons/4 grams ground cinnamon
· ¼ teaspoon/1 gram ground nutmeg
· 1 teaspoon/2 grams finely grated lemon zest
· ½ cup/55 grams chopped walnuts (optional)
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch loaf pan.
2. In a large bowl, use a rubber spatula to mix together the grated zucchini, sugar, olive oil, yogurt, eggs and vanilla extract.
3. Whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, lemon zest and spices in a separate bowl. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Fold in the walnuts if using.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 40 to 55 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. The bread will be done when a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
5. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove the bread from the pan and cool on a rack completely before cutting and serving.
Sourdough Starter Discard Crackers
One of the first sourdough recipes I tried was for Sourdough Starter Discard crackers. I make them often and my favorite recipe is from Little Spoon Farms. I alternate making them with Herbs de Provence, or “Everything But the Bagel” seasoning, but this weekend I experimented a bit by added an additional tablespoon of butter which seemed to helped them to cook more evenly, and I used Savory Seasoning. Savory is a dried mix from the supermarket that is fragrant and fresh tasting mix of garlic, black pepper, orange peel, carrot, basil, oregano, parsley, fennel, thyme, marjoram, and cayenne.
This is my new favorite mix for my discard crackers.
Little Spoon Farms’
Sourdough Discard Crackers
· ¾ cup (200 g) discarded sourdough starter (stirred down)
· 2 tablespoons (28 g) butter (melted)
· ¼ teaspoon (1 g) fine sea salt
· 2 teaspoons dried herbs (Herbs de Provence)
· ¼ teaspoon (1 g) salt for sprinkling on top
1. Preheat your oven to 325°F (162°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Melt the butter in a mixing bowl and let cool.
2. Weigh the sourdough discard, dried herbs and salt into the bowl of melted butter and mix thoroughly until well combined. Use an off-set spatula to spread the mixture in a thin, even layer onto the parchment paper. Sprinkle the top with salt.
3. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and score the crackers. Bake for an additional 20-50 minutes or until the crackers are golden brown. Let cool completely before breaking into squares. (Oven temperatures vary, check the crackers after 20 minutes into baking to make sure they do not over bake. See notes.)
· Because these crackers are so thin, in some ovens they can brown quite quickly.
I recommend checking them at the 20 minute mark the first time you bake them to make sure they do not over bake and burn. Adjust your baking time accordingly!
· The discard can be used either, cold, right out of the fridge or at room temperature.
· Store in an air-tight container for up to one week at room temperature.
· Fresh herbs and grated hard cheeses can be added to create different flavors.
· Scoring the crackers is optional. The sheet can easily be broken into pieces after baking and cooling off.
Sourdough Focaccia Recipe
I love all the pretty focaccias I see on IG on “Focaccia Friday”, but I had yet to find one that was super easy and yummy. Plus I’d like to be able to use some of my sourdough starter with it. I also need to use some serious amounts of rosemary off of my rosemary bush. Thank you to @sourdough_enzo for sharing your focaccia recipe in your stories. I followed it exactly and it came out amazing! I’ll definitely be making this one again.
In terms of timing, I mixed all the ingredients together at noon on Saturday, and then did the first stretch and fold at 12:45, let it sit until 1:30, and then did 3 coil folds over the next three hours (1:30, 2:30, and 3:30). I put it in the fridge at 3:30, then took it out at 10pm to sit at room temperature overnight. On Sunday morning I preheated the oven while making my morning tea, prepped it with my favorite toppings (rosemary, Kalamata olives, and sea salt) and put it in the oven at 7:30am.
You can see how pretty it turned out! I will definitely be baking this one again.
Focaccia Recipe from @sourdough_enzo:
1.Mix all ingredients together and let sit for 30 - 45 minutes
2.Perform 1 stretch and fold
3.Let sit for 30 - 45 minutes
4.Perform 3-4 coil folds over 3 hours
5.Transfer dough with coil fold motion to buttered AND generously oiled baking sheet. Cover and put in the fridge.
6.Pull out of the fridge at 10pm and let sit covered at room temperature (65F) until around 7am the next day.
7.Preheat the oven to 425F.
8.Dock/dimple the dough with wet or oiled fingers and top with desired toppings.
9.Bake at 425F for 25-30 minutes.
Sourdough English Muffins
I am always looking for something new to try with all the sourdough discard, so I was excited to find this recipe from King Arthur Baking. This recipe was easy, and my husband says it’s one of his favorite things I’ve ever made. So yes, the Delaney Test Kitchen was a success on this one. It does make a LOT of English Muffins though, so my recommendation is if you do not have a hungry teenage boy in your house, then you’ll want to freeze some for future breakfasts.
Or, this recipe can be easily halved: Halve all of the ingredients; for a slightly faster rise, use 2 teaspoons yeast, rather than 1 1/2 teaspoons.
One important note: you’ll cook these on a large electric griddle. Mine is the Presto Electric Griddle from Amazon, and it cooks very evenly.
Sourdough English Muffins
Speedy No-Knead Bread
This recipe from NYT cooking’s Mark Bittman is an attempt to cut the start-to-finish time of Jim Lahey’s original recipe down to just a few hours rather than the original 14 to 20 hours of rising time. This is a great alternative if you want some fresh bread and didn’t get the sourdough process started yesterday. The Delaney test kitchen tasters gave this one two thumbs up. It was gone so fast I’m glad I got a few pictures in first!
In terms of timing - I started at noon, then started baking a little before 5pm. It was perfectly baked, cooled and still slightly warm in time for dinner.
If you make this one, please let me know if it’s a hit in your house too!
Speedy No-Knead Bread
1. Combine flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add 1 1/2 cups water and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest about 4 hours at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
2. Lightly oil a work surface and place dough on it; fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest 30 minutes more.
3. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6-to-8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under dough and put it into pot, seam side up. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.
4. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
The Easiest Loaf of Bread
When King Arthur Baking says that this is The Easiest Loaf of Bread You’ll Ever Bake, they aren’t kidding. After some sourdough struggles, it is rewarding to return to this recipe that is easy, always a success, and always a crowd pleaser. They say it is European-style crusty bread. I say it’s good that it makes two loaves because my crew can’t stop eating it. I can’t wait to make a serious BLT for lunch using this nice, fresh bread. I highly recommend this recipe if you are just starting out with your baking, or if you're a seasoned baker. It's just so easy.
The Easiest Loaf of Bread You’ll Ever Bake
1. Weigh your flour; or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess.
2. Stir together all of the ingredients (except the cornmeal) in a large bowl, starting with 4 1/2 cups of the flour. Use a sturdy spoon, or your stand mixer equipped with the beater paddle. Mix until everything comes together in a rough, shaggy mass of dough.
3. If you’re kneading the dough by hand, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, using some of the additional 1/2 cup of flour called for. Fold the far edge of the dough back over on itself towards you, then press it away from you with the heels of your hands. Rotate the dough 90°. Repeat this fold-press-rotate process with a rhythmic, rocking motion for about 6 minutes. When fully kneaded, the dough will be bouncy and smooth.
If you’re using your stand mixer, switch to the dough hook and knead the dough at medium speed for about 7 minutes, until it’s smooth, elastic, and feels a bit bouncy. If the dough doesn’t form a ball that clears the sides of the bowl, sprinkle in just enough of the additional flour to make this happen.
4. Place the dough in a bowl that’s been lightly greased with vegetable oil or cooking spray; the bowl you started with is fine. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or another airtight cover, and let the dough rise at room temperature until it's doubled in size, about 1 to 2 hours. If your kitchen is particularly cold (below 65°F), place the bowl of dough in your turned-off oven with the oven light on.
5. Gently deflate the dough and cut it in half. Pat each half into a rough 6” x 8” oval.
6. Working with one piece of dough at a time, grab a short side and fold the dough like a business letter (one short side into the center, the other short side over it). Use the heel of your hand to press the open edge of the “letter” closed. Gently pat and roll the dough into a log about 10” long. Repeat with the remaining piece of dough.
7. Place the loaves, seam-side down, on a baking sheet (lined with parchment if desired). Sprinkle the pan (or parchment) generously with cornmeal; this will keep the bread from sticking and give it a crunchy bottom crust.
8. Let the loaves rise, lightly covered with greased plastic wrap, for 45 minutes. They should become nicely puffy. Gently poke your index finger into the side of one of the loaves; if the indentation remains, your bread is ready to bake.
9. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 450°F.
10. For extra-crusty crust and a great rise, add steam to your oven as follows: While the oven is preheating, place an empty cast-iron frying pan on the lowest rack. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil in the microwave or on the stovetop. (Note: For this I fill the cast iron pan with ice cubes and place it on the lower rack right before adding the bread to the oven. It works just as well and doesn't feel as dangerous.)
11. When your bread is risen, use a sieve to dust the loaves with a thin coat of flour. Then make three or four 1/2” deep diagonal slashes in each loaf; these slashes will help the bread rise evenly as it bakes. Place the bread in the oven and pour the boiling water into the frying pan below. Quickly shut the oven door. Wear good oven mitts during this process to shield your hands and arms from the steam.
12. Bake the bread for 20 to 25 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and a loaf sounds hollow to the touch when you tap it on the bottom. The interior temperature of the bread should register at least 190°F on a digital thermometer.
13. Turn the oven off, crack the door open, and allow the bread to remain inside for 5 additional minutes; this helps keep the crust crisp. Remove the bread from the oven and cool it on a rack. It’s best not to cut into the bread until it’s cooled down a bit; cutting into hot bread can negatively affect its texture.
Low-Knead (Easy) Sandwich Bread
I had been wanting to make a sandwich bread for a while, so I gave it a try with the Low-Knead Sandwich Bread recipe from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt with NYTCooking. According to the NYT, this recipe was inspired by Jim Lahey’s influential no-knead bread recipe.
The recipe was easy to follow, and cooked beautifully. I used egg wash on the top before baking, and sprinkled it with some sea salt and sesame seeds for a little more flavor. Look at the beautiful crumb! I’ll definitely be making this one again. I think next time I’ll replace 100g of water with 100 g of whole milk for a softer, richer loaf as suggested.
In terms of timing/schedule, I started at noon, then alternating folding and resting until 3pm and then transferred it to the fridge to rest overnight.
The next morning I took it out at 8am, placed it in the loaf pan and let it rise at room temperature. The recipe calls for this to take 2 hours, but mine took 3. Probably because the house is cool with the AC.
I put it in the oven at 11, and it was done in 35 minutes.
If you make this one, let me know how it goes!
It's Focaccia Friday!
Last week on IG I was drawn to the beautiful pictures that @mamaluu_bakes shared of her Sourdough Focaccia, and she shared the fabulous recipe from Dan @mothership_breads. I had to try it for myself in the Delaney Test Kitchen. And @mamaluu_bakes, I took your advice and also used my Kitchen Aid and it worked great.
You can find the recipe on both of their IG feeds, and I’ve reposted it here for you as well:
-400g tipo 00 or all-purpose flour
-80g mature 100% hydration whole grain based starter
-20g extra virgin olive oil, and extra for coating pan
-10g sea salt
Mix all the ingredients together until a shaggy dough forms.
Let this rest 30 minutes and after that knead it using stretch and folds/Rubaud method for about 4 min., let rest 10 min. and then Rubaud for another 3-4 minutes.
Cover dough with a damp tea towel and let it bulk ferment at room temperature for approx. 5 hours performing stretch and folds every 30 minutes for the first 1.5 hours. Bulk until the dough has nearly doubled in volume. My kitchen is quite warm, between 27C and 30C and this took me ~5 hours.
After that, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and stick it in a 4C fridge overnight (at least 8 hours and up to 24).
In the Morning: A couple hours before baking take a 10” cast iron skillet and coat it generously with olive oil. Take the dough out of the fridge and gently ease it from the bowl to skillet with olive oil coated fingers.
Flip the dough ball around to coat it with olive oil.
Then let the dough proof, covered with a damp tea towel, in a warm place for 1-2 hours.
At this point the dough should spread out considerably towards the edges of the pan and appear very soft and bubbly. It would be considered overproofed for making regular bread.
Gently lift the dough up at the edges to let air bubbles from underneath the dough escape, and to allow the olive oil to redistribute underneath it. Gently push the dough to the edges of the pan and dimple it with your fingers. Top with desired toppings, sprinkle with flaky salt and drizzle generously with more extra virgin olive oil.
Bake it in a preheated 500F oven for about 20 minutes, cool until just warm, and enjoy!
Homemade Soft Pretzel Knots
I saw this recipe for pretzel knots in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) a few weeks ago, and immediately clipped it. Frozen hot pretzels are a popular evening snack for my boys, so I thought I could make them something even better. This is a great activity with the little ones, even if they only join you for the shaping of the knots. Plus it is springtime - and it makes me think of baseball, the Braves, and stadium hot pretzels.
This recipe is from Kelly Senyei’s cookbook “The Secret Ingredient Cookbook.” For this recipe, she says the secret ingredient is the everything bagel seasoning. And while I don’t disagree, I only used that for half of them. I used coarse sea salt on the other half since not everyone in my house likes everything bagels (crazy, I know).
If you try this for yourself, please let me know how it goes! And if you're interested, check out Kelly's website for more great recipes: www.justataste.com
Noni's Soft Pretzel Knots
Garden Focaccia Bread
Garden Focaccia Breads: another TikTok cooking trend where I am late to the party.
Some people make them look like gardens or elaborate designs. I was looking for a relatively easy recipe and found this one for Garden Focaccia Bread Art from Chef Ronnie Woo and Rachel Ray. His design was really beautiful, too, with a rising phoenix made from red onions. Mine was not nearly as pretty as his, but given it was my first time making this type of bread I think I did just fine. I highly recommend this recipe.
Garden Focaccia Bread Art With Vegetables + Herbs,
by Chef Ronnie Woo (serves 6)
In a large bowl, mix the flour, yeast, salt, olive oil, honey, and warm water to form a shaggy dough. Using your hands, knead the dough in the bowl until a smooth ball forms. Drizzle with olive oil, cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rest in a warm place until the dough doubles in size, at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 425˚F. When the dough has risen, drizzle a 9-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet with olive oil and spread with your fingers to coat the pan lightly from edge to edge. Transfer the dough to the baking sheet and press evenly into the pan. Using your fingers, press into the top of the dough all over with the tips of your fingers to dimple the dough.
Arrange cut vegetables and herbs on top of dough. Drizzle with more olive oil and sprinkle with salt, then let rest for 10 minutes more. Bake until golden brown on top, 15 to 20 minutes. Drizzle with more olive oil before serving.
The Baguettes I made last time were yummy, but I’m testing lots of different recipes. This time I tried the Classic Baguettes from King Arthur Baking.
This recipe was relatively easy – you just have to plan ahead. I made the starter/poolish at 5pm the night before to give it plenty of time to expand and become bubbly by the morning.
The next morning, I got started on the next step at 7am. For step 2, I used my KitchenAid and that worked great.
There are a lot of steps, so this is not an ideal undertaking if you have a lot of activities the next morning. The good thing is it'll be all done baking by lunchtime.
For Step 8 I used a baker’s couche and that worked better than I expected.
The only change to the recipe for me was for Step 12. I already had the cast iron pan heating in the bottom of the oven. Once I placed the bread in the oven, then I added 2 cups of ice cubes to the cast iron pan and shut the door quickly.
I cooked them for exactly 25 minutes, and they were as yummy as they were pretty. My son commented that I got the “cuts” right this time. The difference is that I have more practice with the baker’s lame. Definitely my best try at baguettes so far. This recipe is a keeper, as long as you plan and schedule ahead of time for it. (Not unlike any of other bread!)
If you try this one, let me know how it goes!
Classic Sourdough from the BBC
So now that I’m following all of these amazing bakers on IG, I’ve been inspired to try different sourdough recipes. So I tried this recipe for Classic Sourdough that I found on the BBC.
As you can tell from the picture, I did not get that classic, open crumb that sourdough is known for. And I don’t know why. My starter was active, and I followed all of the instructions perfectly. It was very humid the day I made this, and the dough was very sticky. Was that it? I’d love any advice from my fellow bakers. Or even a reference to your favorite never-fail sourdough recipe.
That being said, it was super yummy, and the crust was perfectly crumbly. It’s almost all gone and it’s still on the cooling rack. My taste testers approve.
If any of you want to try this recipe variation for yourselves, here is the link to the BBC’s Classic Sourdough. And let me know how it goes!
Irish Soda Bread for St. Patrick's Week
Being a Delaney (by marriage), and it being St. Patricks’ Day Week – I felt compelled to try Irish Soda Bread. In doing my research ahead of time, I learned a lot about its origins.
Soda Bread became popular in Ireland when bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) became available as a leavening agent. Bread soda made it possible to work with the “soft” wheat grown in Ireland’s climate, versus the “hard” wheat flour like we have in the US today which needs yeast to rise properly. “Soft” wheat doesn’t work well with yeast but is great for quick breads, like soda bread.
There is also a Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread and on their website you can learn a lot more about the history of soda bread. But according to them, the earliest published soda bread recipe was in a London magazine in 1836.
Soda Bread’s popularity was easy to understand –the soda wasn’t perishable, it was relatively inexpensive, and the other two main ingredient – wheat flour and buttermilk (which is a by-product of making butter) were easily available.
Before baking, a cross is traditionally cut on the top of the soda bread. It is said that this is done to bless the house and ward off the devil. But it is also practical - it lets the heat get through to the thickest part of the bread so it can stretch and rise. It also automatically separates the bread into 4 equal quadrants making it easy to break apart, hence both breaking bread and giving thanks.
My husband found the recipe for me to try – it is “Granny Reynold’s Soda Bread.” According to the recipe, “Casements Bar in San Francisco serves this tender and tangy soda bread, based on a family recipe from co-owner Gillian Fitzgerald.” Gillian says its equally delicious topped with butter and jam for breakfast or dipped in stew for supper. I can say that it was delicious with butter and jam – I used my favorite local Atlanta Emily’s G’s Triple Berry Jam. And I'd recommend this bread not just for St. Patrick's Day, but any time. Yum!
Classic French Baguettes
My guys love French bread. If we get a loaf at the bakery, half of it is gone before dinner. Since I knew it would be a crowd pleaser, I have been looking at lots of recipes for classic French baguettes, trying to decide which one to try first. I decided to go with this recipe from Baker Bettie and it was a great success.
I learned a couple of things along the way as well:
1. Don't rush the process: You definitely want to let the poolish sit overnight. It made for a very delicious bread.
2. I easily adapted this recipe to use my new baguette pan and made 4 smaller loaves instead of two large ones.
3. Since French bread doesn't have any fat, it needs to be wet. As a result, it can get stuck in the holes of a pan like this so you will want to use parchment paper as well.
4. For shaping the loaves I used a baker's couche which made me feel very professional, and did a great job of letting the loaves expand but keep their shape.
5. I have just been using a sharp paring knife to score my loaves, but after seeing some of the beautiful designs that people are making on their loaves with the proper tools, I decided to step it up. I purchased this baker's lame tool and it worked great.
6. One last thing - I only needed to cook these loaves for 20 minutes and they were perfect.
I encourage you to try this one - it was an easy process and a crowd pleaser. Let me know how it goes!
Apple & Berry Scones
After my great success with Sourdough Bread – all thanks to the virtual guidance of Patrick Ryan from Firehouse Bakery in Ireland and the website ilovecooking.ie – I knew I needed to try his recipe for scones. I used Ryan’s Apple & Berry Scones Recipe. This was easy to follow, and easy to be exact thanks to the digital kitchen scale. I am not sure that the final product looked the way he intended, especially since I chose to omit the sliced almonds, but they were really pretty. And perfectly crumbly. I served it with Emily G’s Triple Berry Jam and it was the perfect addition.
I learned a lot about scones in general when I did my research to select a scone recipe. The website FoodCrumbles.com talked about the science of baking scones. I encourage you to read the article for yourself, but here’s the part I found most interesting: “In order to get that crumbliness, you need those fat pockets (from the butter). Not starting by mixing the flour and butter at the start can cause them to not form properly. However, there’s another thing to keep in mind. The butter has to remain solid while making the scones. If the butter melts completely those pockets are gone and it will become more bread like than scone like. Also, remember to not extensively knead the scone dough. Knead so that everything just comes together, but not anymore or again you will lose those air pockets.”
After my great success with Sourdough Bread – all thanks to the virtual guidance of Patrick Ryan from Firehouse Bakery in Ireland and the website ilovecooking.ie – I felt emboldened to try again. This time I made Ryan’s Olive Sourdough Loaf recipe. The steps were almost identical to the regular loaf, so I felt confident about that. And it was beautiful when it came out of the oven, but that has happened before but without success. The Olive Loaf was perfect! It looked beautiful and tasted fantastic. Another Sourdough Win!
HINT: If you decide to try this one too, I recommend getting started with the dough around 2pm/2:30 in the afternoon. That gives you plenty of time to let it proof before putting it in the fridge overnight for the second proofing. Then you can cook it first thing in the morning.
So if you are feeding your starter each day, then you are discarding quite a bit of starter each day. Especially if you have a couple of starters going like I do. It definitely seems wasteful, especially when you are working so hard to keep it alive. It turns out there are a ton of recipes out there with ideas of things to make with that discard.
So far, my favorite sourdough discard recipe is from Little Spoon Farms for Sourdough Discard Crackers. Even when I couldn’t get my sourdough bread to work, I could always make good crackers thanks to this recipe. Plus it is SUPER EASY!!
This recipe also offers some room for creativity in terms of seasoning. We prefer to use herbs de provence, but using everything but the bagel or Italian seasoning makes for yummy crackers as well.
Cracker Mixture Finished Crackers Yum!
Keeping your Sourdough Starter Alive
So I strongly suggest getting a bit of sourdough starter to get started. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got mine from the Georgia Sourdough Company, via a regular order from Garnish and Gather. Or if you know a crazy baker like me, we always have some starter to spare. So this post is NOT about getting your starter started, but keeping it alive. I’ve read some articles about this where the started has been passed along through the decades, so it can’t be too hard, right?
In the beginning I was afraid that keeping the starter alive would be very time consuming. Even though there are only two ingredients, there’s a bit of exacting measurements involved and it is a bit messy. But it has become very routine and much easier as time has gone on.
What is the Starter, exactly? The sourdough starter is a combination of flour, water, wild yeast and bacteria that is used to make bread rise when baking. And you want the starter to be “strong” and very active and fluffy at the top before making bread. Bread made this way is referred to as “naturally leavened”.
And why exactly do I need to “feed” it? Once the water and flour are initially combined, the wild yeast and bacteria that are found naturally on the flour and in the environment will start to multiply. As they multiply they "eat" the flour in the jar. So once they have “eaten” all of the flour available to them, they must be fed again to keep growing and multiplying.
So how do I feed it? Here you have two options – you can store your starter at room temperature, or you can store it in the fridge. I keep one of each, just to hedge my bets.
If you are storing the starter at room temperature:
A few tips I've learned along the way:
1. I have transitioned to using the wide mouth, 2 cup mason jars for my starters. They are the perfect size, easy to access with the wider mouth, and fit nicely in the fridge.
2. Once every two weeks or so I will transition my starters into clean mason jars, and put the old ones in the dishwasher. This is more about aesthetics than anything as the jars can get pretty messy.
3. After feeding the starters but before covering them, I wipe down the outside of the jar, as well as the inside of the jar to keep it tidy and so I can easily see how the starter is doing.
4. Once you are done feeding the starters, wash all spoons and the countertop immediately. If you let the starter dry on them, it gets like concrete. It’s just too hard to get it off once its dry, so take care of it asap.
5. One way to determine if your starter is ready is to do the float test. My starter did not pass the float test until I found a way to keep my starter warm, as I shared in a previous post. My house was just too chilly. The float test is easy - fill a jar or cup with room temperature water and gently add a tablespoon of the starter into the water. If it floats, you are ready to go. If not, then keep feeding it and trying to get it more active.
After diagnosing the issues I was having with my slow starter (my house was too cold) and then getting it to be bubbly and lively, I was ready to try to make sourdough again. And I found the best teacher. The website is www.ilovecooking.ie (yes - from Ireland!) and the teacher of their Bread Masterclass was Patrick Ryan from Firehouse Bakery. In addition to the recipe, he also filmed a youtube tutorial, which I found helpful as well. I followed the recipe exactly, and my bread came out perfectly. I've never been so happy about bread!
You are supposed to let sourdough cool before slicing, and this is where I've always struggled. My previous breads were all too dense. But this one? The wait was worth it. It was perfect! It looked and tasted as good as anything I've gotten in San Francisco. Thanks for the lesson, Ryan! I'll be making your scones recipe next.....
When I first started with my bread making experiments, I realized that my kitchen need a serious gear update. Many of my tools were 20+ years old from when I first got married, and they were beat. So I upgraded with new mixing bowls, baking sheets, silicone baking mats, a new rolling pin and measuring spoons. It feels great to have an overall kitchen facelift.
I also needed some additional tools for bread. Let me save you the research and tell you what I ended up with:
1. A good mixing bowl with a cover
It turns out that the batter bowl and cover that I got from Pampered Chef eons ago is perfect for letting dough rise. Of course if you have a good sized pyrex bowl that will work, too. But this one really works great too. It's on their site for $20.
2. Banneton Proofing Baskets
The longer bread proofs, the more the gluten breaks down. This makes the bread easier to digest and more flavorful. A banneton proofing basket helps the bread to keep it's shape and it outs very professional-looking ridges on the top of your loaves. And you don't want to get cheap banneton or it will start to flake. I got mine on amazon from Bread Bosses for about $20 and it work great. Bonus - it comes with a dough scraper, which is another tool I didn't know I needed until I had it.
3. Bowl Covers
Last year I made a commitment to eliminate as much plastic and disposable plastics items as I could from my kitchen. So instead of covering my bowls with plastic, I am using fabric covers. I found a set of 3 cute red-striped ones in various sizes from Earth Bunny for $30 and they work great. I also bought a set of silicone ones from Modfamily on Amazon for $15 that work great if I need to let something rise in a warm oven.
4. A Kitchen Scale
Many of the recipes are very exacting, especially for sourdough. And many of the recipes are in grams. In order to be that precise, I realized that I needed a kitchen scale. I bought the Escali Primo P115C Precision Kitchen Scale from Amazon. It was $25 and it works great.
5. A Dutch Oven
I did not have a proper dutch oven to use for making bread. After doing my research I shopped the sales at Christmas and got the enameled cast iron Staub 5.5QT Round Cocotte at Sur la Table. The cover is specially designs to baste as it cooks, so it helps to keep the crust of the bread moist. This prevents me from having to use a sheet pan full of boiling water in the bottom of the oven - which sounds like a disaster to me. Plus, having this beautiful pot in my kitchen makes me feel like Julia Child.
A more cost effective option is also a classic pyrex set of a bowl and cover. I found this one on Amazon for about $30.
Success with Yummy Yeasty Breads: French Style Country Bread and the Easiest Loaf You'll Ever Make from King Arthur Baking
As I mentioned in my earlier post, sourdough was testing my patience. And after all this work I really wanted something to show for it. So I decided to switch to yeast based baking for a bit.
I had some great success with two recipes form the King Arthur Baking site. The first was the French Style Country Bread. This was easy to follow, and delicious.
After this success, I decided to try another. This was the Easiest Loaf of Bread You'll Ever Bake. And it was. This recipe makes two loaves, and it was delicious. I highly recommend this as a recipe to get started with, maybe before you even try the sourdough. It was easy, and a crowd pleaser.
So in the Fall I finally decided to join the Sourdough craze that everyone else had been participating in at the beginning of the pandemic. I ordered my sourdough starter from Garnish and Gather (they supply organic meal prep dinners and groceries in Georgia using locally-sourced ingredients and organic groceries from all of my favorite farmers and vendors from the local farmer's market. To say I'm a fan is an understatement, but I'll tell you more about them in a later post.) They sell starter in a jar and with directions from Georgia Sourdough Co.
I was not a good keeper of my starter, and had to get a second one. As a result, I learned all about how they are little eco-systems and need to be fed. And I was determined to take good care of this one. I'll do a future post on starters and how to keep them alive.
In the meantime, I did a lot of research on sourdough recipes before getting started. I decided to start with the Beginner's Sourdough Bread Recipe from Little Spoon Farm. Their terrific website is full of great tips and tricks, and I thought their clear recipe would set me up for success. I did everything by the book. And while the final product was pretty to look at, it was so dense you could hardly cut it. I couldn't even make croutons out of it. So I did some more research and tried again.
This time, I took some advice from The Traditional Cooking School and added baking soda before shaping. This helped a little bit, but not much. It was still dense. We could only slice it when it was warm. Once it cooled it was as hard as a rock.
After reading a bit more, I determined that the problem was the temperature of my house. This time of year (November) it is a chilly 65 degrees Fahrenheit. And the starter needs it to be around 70 degrees F to thrive. Heating my house enough to warm up the starter was only going to make Georgia Power even richer, and not something my hubby would approve of.
I found the solution on Amazon (of course) in a product that is used to grow seedings, or to help ferment kombucha. It's the VivoSun Heat Mat. This has been a total game changer. Now my starters (I have three going now) are alive and bubbly. I'll do another post on keeping the starters going, but this ended up being the key to my future success.
In the meantime, I made a few yeast-based breads since I wanted to have something to show for all my efforts. Hence the next post on French Style Country Bread and the Easiest Loaf of Bread you'll Ever Make, both with recipes from King Arthur Baking.
A History Bonus:
As an aside, I learned that one of the reasons that the west coast is so famous for their sourdoughs is that the Pioneer Women would carry their sourdough starter in a jar and keep it close to their bodies to keep it warm. They had no access to yeast no traditional baking methods. This allowed them to be able to make bread anyway.
Kris Delaney is a marketing executive, foodie, travel enthusiast, and book nerd based in Atlanta, GA.