Whole-Grain Artisan Loaf

Sometimes, the best way to spend a weekend is by doing absolutely nothing. Okay, so maybe we did go to the Diamondbacks and Giants game but the other two days were pleasantly lazy – especially Sunday. One of my favorite and most relaxing things to do is to make bread. There really is nothing better than that fresh bread smell blanketing every room and that first bite into crusty goodness J.

One of my new favorite snacks is a slice of homemade wheat bread, toasted with a dollop of ricotta and a smear of agave nectar/apple butter. YUM.

Other than running errands and pretending to watch football with the boy, this is what my Sunday amounted to.  Recipe below:

Whole-Grain Artisan Loaf:

The Ingredients:

  • 5 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tbsp (2 packets) granulated yeast
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt (or to taste)
  • 1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 4 cups lukewarm water

The Method:

1. Use dry-ingredient measuring cups (avoid 2 cup measures, which compress the flour) to gently scoop up flour, then sweep the top level with a knife or spatula. Whisk together the flours, yeast, salt and vital wheat gluten in a 5-quart bowl, or, preferably, in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic food container or food-grade bucket. Lidded (or even vented) plastic buckets designed for dough storage are readily available.

2. Heat the water to slightly warmer than body temperature (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit). Add to the dry ingredients and mix without kneading, using a spoon, food processor (with dough attachment), or heavy-duty stand mixer (with paddle). You may need to get your hands wet to get the flour to incorporate if you’re not using a machine. Don’t knead! It isn’t necessary.

You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. This step is done in a matter of minutes, and yields a wet dough that remains loose enough to conform to the shape of its container.

3. Cover with a lid (not airtight) or cover loosely with plastic wrap. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flatten on top), which will take about 2 hours. Longer rising times — even overnight — will not change the result. Fully refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and is easier to work with than dough at room temperature. So, the first time you try our method, it’s best to refrigerate the dough overnight (or at least 3 hours) before shaping a loaf.

After it’s been refrigerated, the dough will seem to have shrunk back upon itself. It will never rise again in the bucket, which is normal for our dough. Whatever you do, do not punch down this dough! With our method, you’re trying to retain as much gas in the dough as possible, and punching it down knocks gas out and will make your loaves denser.

On Baking Day

4. First, prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal (or lining it with parchment paper or a silicone mat) to prevent your loaf from sticking to it when you slide it into the oven. Dust the surface of your refrigerated dough with flour. Pull up and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece of dough, using a serrated knife or kitchen shears. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won’t stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating a quarter-turn as you go to form a ball. Most of the dusting flour will fall off; it’s not intended to be incorporated into the dough. The bottom of the ball may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten out during resting and baking. The correctly shaped final product will be smooth and cohesive. The entire process should take no more than 20 to 40 seconds. If you work the dough longer than this, it may make your loaf too dense.

5. Stretch the ball gently to elongate it, and taper the ends by rolling them between your palms and pinching them.

6. Allow the loaf to rest — covered loosely with plastic wrap — on the pizza peel for 90 minutes (40 minutes if you’re using fresh, unrefrigerated dough).

Alternatively, you can allow the loaf to rest on a silicone mat or greased cookie sheet. Depending on the age of the dough, you may not see much rise during this period. More rising will occur during baking.

7. Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450 degrees, with a baking stone placed on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on any other rack that won’t interfere with the rising bread.

8. Just before baking, use a pastry brush to paint the top of the loaf with a little water. Sprinkle with the seed and nut mixture. Slash the loaf with quarter-inch-deep parallel cuts across the top, using a serrated bread knife.

9. After a 30-minute preheat, you’re ready to bake. With a quick forward jerking motion of the wrist, slide the loaf off the pizza peel and onto the preheated baking stone. If you used parchment paper instead of cornmeal, it will slide onto the stone with the loaf. If you used a silicone mat or cookie sheet, just place it on the stone. Quickly but carefully pour about a cup of hot water into the broiler tray and close the door to trap the steam. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is richly browned and firm to the touch (smaller or larger loaves will require adjustments in resting and baking time).

If you used parchment paper, a silicone mat, or a cookie sheet under the loaf, carefully remove it and bake the loaf directly on the stone or an oven rack when the loaf is about two-thirds of the way through baking.When you remove the loaf from the oven, it may audibly crackle, or “sing,” when initially exposed to room-temperature air. Allow the bread to cool completely, preferably on a wire cooling rack. The perfect crust may initially soften, but will firm up again when cooled.

10. Store the remaining dough in your container in the refrigerator and use it over the next couple of weeks. You’ll find that even one day’s storage im¬proves the flavor and texture of your bread. The dough ferments and takes on sourdough characteristics. When your bucket is empty, don’t wash it! Mix another batch in the same container. The aged dough stuck to the sides will give you a head start on sourdough flavor. To take it even further, incorporate up to 2 cups of your old dough.

 

Green Goddess Grilled Cheese

 

I had a late start getting to the gym yesterday, so I needed something quick – and delicious, of course. I opted to make the Green Goddess Grilled Cheese to satisfy my taste buds. If you have ten minutes, then you have time to make this yummy gourmet-esque sandwich.

With a hearty helping of avocado and cheddar, this recipe was exactly what I needed after my run. I hadn’t been to the gym in over a week due to our Mexico vacation so the treadmill was definitely my worst enemy. The lesson I learned: When training for a 5K, NEVER go longer than three days without running or you will face a brutal attack that will possibly trigger tears to run down your face. In public.

Okay, enough of the sob story and back to the food. I highly recommend this recipe whether you’re crunched for time or not. I was very short on time and used store-bought pesto, but you should try making your own if time allows. Enjoy!

Green Goddess Grilled Cheese

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices bread (I used 12-grain, but sourdough would be delish)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons pesto
  • 2 slices cheddar cheese
  • handful fresh baby spinach
  • 1/4 avocado, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons parmesan, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

The Method:

  1. Spread about 1 tablespoon of pesto onto each slice of bread.
  2. On one slice of bread, add 1 slice of cheese, sliced avocado, parm, spinach, second slice of cheese, then top it with second slice of bread. Press together gently.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a frying pan over medium low heat. Add the sandwich to the oil and cook until bread is golden brown. (I like mine extra crispy so I left it on a tad longer than usual)

Baked Fontina and Smoked Mozzarella with Thyme and Rosemary

Oh. My. Goodness. This was so delicious, if I do say so myself. Nick and I recently dined at North, in Arcadia – it quickly became one of our faves. They have an appetizer called the “Bread and Cheese Plate” – when we ordered it we figured we would be getting a selection of cheeses, some olives, chutney and bread; but what we got would be so much better.

While sipping on a lovely red wine, our jaws dropped to the floor when we saw a cast-iron skillet of cheesy goodness and beautifully grilled artisan bread slices. Needless to say, we were in heaven. This dish was so delish, that I couldn’t stop thinking about it days after we had been there. Naturally, I took a stab at creating it at home and it was my favorite dish that I’ve made to date.

I borrowed this recipe from Ina Garten, but added some twists to it. My recipe is below.

  • 1 pound Italian Fontina Val d’Aosta cheese, rind removed and 1-inch-diced
  • 1 pound smoked mozzarella, 1-inch-diced
  • 1/4 cup white truffle oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 crusty French baguette, grilled and sliced

Directions

Preheat the broiler and position the oven rack 5 inches from the heat.

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Distribute the cubes of Fontina and Smoked Mozzarella evenly in a 12-inch cast-iron pan. Drizzle on the truffle oil. Combine the garlic, thyme, and rosemary and sprinkle it over the cheese and truffle oil. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper and place the pan under the broiler for 6 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbling and starts to brown.

Serve the baked cheese family-style-right out of the oven in the cast-iron pan with crusty chunks of bread for everyone to dip.