Our Daily (Crusty, Savory, Artisan) Bread!

robin hood flour

At the center of our family’s food culture there was always bread. My Mother and  her Mother baked bread for everyone.  Mom’s recipe started with 25lbs of Robin Hood Flour. No, I’m not kidding. 25 pounds.  I don’t think you can even find flour this size any longer in grocery stores.  But, it was always available to her and it was the bases for her recipe.   25 lbs of flour, 3 dozen eggs, 3lbs of shortening, a half gallon of milk…. seriously.

She used a cauldron-sized enameled pot to mix and knead it all in and then the five of us would deliver loaves to her family and friends and neighbors.  It would not be unusual for her to turn out 40 loaves of bread during her baking sessions.

She called her bread Pane di Pasqua (Easter Bread), and she always had it on that important holiday, but made it also at various occasions throughout the year.  At Easter time there was the added treatment of putting an egg in what we called ‘doll baby bread’ which each of us found in our baskets with filled chocolate eggs and bunnies.  I borrowed the pic below to give an idea of what they looked like.  Next Easter I’ll make some and post pics of the process!

Borrowed this image from another site.

Borrowed this image from another site.

Easter Bread – made for all family gatherings and occasions at Mom’s house is an Italian version of Challah — rich in eggs and fat and scrumptious.  I save that bread for VERY special occasions.

I bake bread at least twice a week, sometimes more, depending on how the Spirit moves me.  To me, there’s something almost mystical about baking bread — the way it converts from a jumbled mass to a smooth, shiny, elastic ball, and then grows to amazing heights.  I love how it smells as it bakes, how it feels as I take it out of the pans and finally how it makes me feel to see my family and friends smile as they break it and eat it.  It’s probably my favorite ‘cooking thing’ to do:  Bake bread for people I love.

If you are a beginner to bread baking – don’t fret over it. Science and Nature will do all the work. It’s really hard to mess it up if you just learn a couple basic things about Yeast, Flour and Water — the bread baking trinity.

Yeast:  I use SAF instant (a Red Star Brand) baker’s yeast (from King Arthur flour (http://www.kingarthurflour.com).  It can be instant, active dry, or fresh cake but make sure it’s fresh. I like the instant, because I can just add it to my dry ingredients and I don’t have to activate it first.

Flour:  Always use a good quality flour.  Flour isn’t very expensive (about $4.00 for 5lbs of King Arthur) I use King Arthur exclusively.  It’s a few pennies more than most other brands but I think the quality is unmatched.  You may use all-purpose or bread flour with very little difference in the result.  Bread flour has a slightly higher protein content and so it produces a more forgiving loaf in usually a little less time, but I get the exact results I’m looking for using All-Purpose (AP) flour most of the time.  King Arthur’s AP flour has a higher protein content then most of the other store brands, so I’d say stick with this, unless a recipe expressly calls for “bread flour.”    Buy and use only what you can in a couple months.  Although most white flour will hold well for 6 months, the fresher the better (www.eatbydate.com has a good chart for how long things last).

Water:  When possible use spring water.  Many districts throughout the country have switched from chlorine to chloramine and chloramine kills yeast rapidly. I keep gallon jugs of spring water I buy when there’s a great sale going on – that I use for making coffee and bread.  You will see a big difference in the height and texture of your breads if you switch to spring water.   The water you add to your flour should be warm.  not hot, but warm.  Bread will rise even in cool water, albeit a longer rise time, but it will not rise if you kill the yeast with water that’s too hot or too chemically treated.

Besides the feeling you get by mixing, kneading, baking, smelling and eating your own amazing loaves, bread baking is pretty cheap.  While you can pay $3.00 to $5.00 or more for a crusty loaf of artisan bread from your local bakery or WholeFoods, you can make it for much less.

You can get 7 big loaves of my Ciabatta bread out of a $4.00 5lb bag of flour.  Add .20 cents for water and about .25 for yeast and a couple pennies for salt and you have less than a dollar in a loaf using the very best ingredients.  If you use 3 loaves/week like we do (150 loaves/year) that’s a savings of over $450.

Once you get in the habit of baking a loaf at a time, you’ll see how simple it is.  You can let it rise refrigerated overnight and spend very little time preparing it for dinner tonight.  We usually eat around 8pm so for me it’s easy to mix, rise, shape, rise and bake in about 2-2.5 hours, after work, while i’m making the rest of our dinner.

Typically, I’ll get home from work, throw my flour, yeast, water and a little salt in my mixer bowl and let it mix while i change clothes.  Then I do a little manual kneading to make sure it feels as I want it to feel (more about this later on), and put it in a bowl to rise.  While that’s happening I usually run to the store for tonight’s protein and whatever I need and when I get home to start that, my bread is ready for shaping and proofing.

Our favorite is a basic ciabatta bread and I’ve included my recipe here:

Basic, no-pressure Ciabatta Bread

Serves 1 loaf
Prep time 1 hour, 20 minutes
Cook time 35 minutes
Total time 1 hour, 55 minutes
Meal type Bread
Region Italian

Ingredients

  • 3 1/4 Cups King Arthur AP Flour
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons Instant yeast ((one packet))
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar ((or mix 1 tsp honey in water - next ingredient))
  • 15oz warm spring water (a little more than 1 3/4 cups. 110°-115° (f))
  • 1 tablespoon EV Olive Oil (plus a little for your bowl)

Directions

1.
I use my KitchenAid mixer for everything. This is how I do it with the mixer. Using the paddle attachment blend the dry ingredients (flour, yeast, salt and sugar). If using honey instead of sugar, add honey to warm water and stir to blend
kitchenaid mixer
2. with the mixer going on medium-slow (2 or 3) add water/honey mixture in a steady stream. Mix on medium for 4 minutes.
3. change to dough hook and mix for an additional 5 minutes on medium speed.
4. No mixer? Use a wooden spoon to mix for 5 minutes and then your hand in the bowl (don't try to turn this out to knead it - this dough is VERY wet) for the next 5 minutes, pulling it up and pushing it down in a stretching motion. it's messy; but it's just dough. This stretching and slapping down traps air bubbles characteristic of a good ciabatta. it's an important part of the process.
5. You can either oil another bowl or, as I always do, scrape the wet sticky dough onto a floured board and let it rest a moment while you wash the mixer bowl and dry it well. then using a paper towel with a little olive oil, rub the bowl bottom and sides.
6.
scrape the dough (i use a steel flat scraper like the one pictured here) and plop it into the prepared bowl.
pastry-scraper
7. Next, I say a little prayer of thanks and wish good health and fortune on those who will share this bread, and make three little crosses on the dough with my finger while i do this (i suppose you could omit this step, but why not take a moment and think good things for your loved ones, while you're baking? Even if you aren't religious, Dr. Deepak Chopra says (from Ageless Body, Timeless Mind http://completewellbeing.com/article/deepak-chopra-on-living-healing/) that there is substantial evidence of a connection between our chemistry, affected by emotion, and the food we make and eat - so... give it a try if the Spirit moves you...)
8.
Drizzle the olive oil over the dough, cover it in plastic wrap and place it in a warm spot (I turn on my oven to 120°, then turn it off, open and shut the door a few times (i'm not sure why - i guess so it's not too hot) and place the bowl inside.
wet dough
9. My Kitchen is very fertile from all the bread I make (wild yeast lives in your kitchen and you will notice your breads get better and better the more you bake in them) so this dough will double for me in about 40-50 minutes. DO NOT PANIC if it takes longer. It might take 1 hour or 1.25 hours. You want it to double in size.
10.
once doubled, turn your dough out onto your (still) floured board (unless you have a spouse that follows you around cleaning up after you and the floured board you used before is no longer floured - then you'll have to start again). Meanwhile, prep your pan (for a loaf, use a cookie sheet) by lining it with parchment paper and then sprinkling with a little semolina flour or cornmeal. I also make a round one by using a domed baker's cloche pictured here, which i also line with parchment and meal.
cloche
11.
I fold my dough now, using the scraper with a little row of flour in front of it to lift and fold a few times. Be gentle, but create the basic shape you're after.
dough 2
12. Sprinkle the top of your bread with flour (looks great when done). cover with the same piece of plastic you used earlier and then a light cloth (i use flour sack cloths that I buy at Kroger) and let it rest for enough time to get your oven to 400° (F)....about 20 minutes. NOTE: This time you can't let your dough proof in the oven. obviously. It's getting too hot in there!
13. If you're baking on a pan or sheet, place an empty pan under the shelf you're going to bake your bread on. Most ovens have 2 or more shelves. I put my baking shelf on the lower third and under it i have my other shelf, leaving about 3 inches of space - just enough space for the bottom of my broiler pan. I preheat the oven with that pan in place, then I put my bread in the oven and pour 2 cups of hot tap water into the pan underneath and close the door of the oven quickly. To get a wonderful crust, steam is needed and this puts a nice water vapor in the air around your baking bread. If you use a domed baker, you don't have to do this. it traps the steam.
14.
Bake for 35 minutes, until it's a beautiful golden brown and sounds a little hollow if you thump it lightly. If you're using a domed baker, remove the top (CAREFUL IT IS HOT) for the last 15 minutes of baking. THEN, take it out and allow it to cool for 10 minutes before you slice it. More if you can stand it! MANGIA!
20131020_175004

Cincopa WordPress plugin

 

 

 

Michael’s Mussels Josephina

Mussels Fettuccine Broth

My take on Mussels Josephine

 

 

 

 

 

We love Mussels.  Love them as appetizers, snacks and as a main course.  This recipe is my take on Mussels Josephine, originally developed by chefs at Bonefish Grill.  It’s delicious and VERY quick to make.  Just stop by and get fresh live mussels on your way home and you can have dinner ready in no time at all!

My take on Mussels Josephine

Serves 3-4
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 10 minutes
Total time 30 minutes
Allergy Egg, Fish, Shellfish, Wheat
Dietary Vegetarian
Meal type Main Dish
Misc Serve Hot
This is one of Don's and my favorite meals. It's luxurious looking and sumptuous and it takes under 30 minutes to prepare! Important notes about this dish (which relate to others also) can be found in the Notes section, including how to cook pasta.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup Unsalted, organic Butter ((1 stick))
  • 1/4 cup Organic Extra-Virgin Olive Oil ((for supermarket brands, I use only Pompeian))
  • 1 Medium Yellow Onion (coarsely chopped)
  • 4 Cloves Fresh, firm white Garlic (minced)
  • 2 Shots (3 oz) Sambuca or Anisette
  • 3 Medium Sized Fresh Tomatoes, Chopped ((Or canned San Marzano, drained and chopped))
  • 1/2 Cup Dry White Wine ((Sauvignon Blanc or other - a little more if you'd like))
  • 1/2 teaspoon Freshly ground Black Pepper (I prefer Tellicherry Peppercorns)
  • 1/2 cup Fresh Basil (Coarsely chopped)
  • 2lb fresh live mussels (washed and de-bearded)
  • 1 Lemon (well-washed, halved (you'll be using juice and rind))
  • Parsely (flat Italian for garnish (and a little zing))
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher or Sea Salt ((to taste))
  • Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano (Only use a good grade Parmigiano. A potato peeler shaves wonderfully.)
  • 1 Lb. package Fettuccini or Linguini ((homemade or bought - I like De Cecco brand))

Directions

1.
The entire sauce should take about 8 minutes --- and that's how much time it takes to cook your pasta -- so.... I start by getting my pasta water on. Pasta should be cooked in a large pot with abundantly salted water. (If you are in question about cooking pasta properly, please read my "recipe notes" about cooking pasta in this blog. While it's heating up, I get everything else cleaned, chopped and ready to add.

Add pasta to rapidly boiling water and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente. Immediately start your sauce.
Mussels Fettuccine Broth
2.
Coat a hot, very large skillet or Casserole with butter. Use a pan that will hold everything and that has a lid. Add Olive oil. Add onions and cook until translucent (med-hi heat). Add garlic and cook for 1 minute (don't brown-burn the garlic ever - it makes everything taste bitter and gives you bad breath).
lecreuset 1
3.
add Sambuca. Stir and cook to evaporate the alcohol.
Romana-Sambuca-lg
4. Add tomatoes. Cook another couple of minutes to start to get the juices of the tomatoes going. Once the Sambuca and tomatoes have been added the 'frying' of the onions and garlic will stop so it's important that this step happens quickly after adding the garlic.
5. Add the wine, pepper and basil. Cook everything another couple of minutes.
6.
Add cleaned mussels and immediately put the lid on. reduce heat to medium (still nice and hot - you are not simmering yet).
mussels in the pot
7. Keep it covered until the mussels start to open (should take about 5 minutes depending on how hot you have everything - (see about cooking mussels at http://www.discovermussels.com/how-cook-mussels for more information)
8. Remove lid and squeeze or juice a lemon through a sieve or your fingers to catch seeds). then toss the squeezed rinds into the pot.
9. This should have taken about 8 minutes --- and that's how much time it takes to cook your pasta -- so....reduce heat to simmer and drain your pasta now - reserving a nice big mug of that wonderful water. Do NOT rinse your pasta. Ever.
10.
SERVING AT THE TABLE: If you are using a large beautiful pasta bowl to serve table-side, put a little olive oil in the bowl and add and toss your pasta in it. Add some of the pasta water to the sauce (up to you how much of it --- I like a brothy final serving, so I add about a cup). Then pour your marvelous mussel/sauce mixture over the pasta. Shave some Parmesan and sprinkle the chopped parsely. Give a final few turns of your pepper mill over the bowl and serve!
mussels josephine 2
11. SERVING AND PLATING AT THE STOVE: Using Tongs, put a serving portion of pasta in each large bowl. Add pasta water to sauce and using a generous ladle, ladle the sauce and mussels over the pasta. Shave Parmesan over the bowls, sprinkle with freshly cut flat-leaf parsley and give it a few turns of the pepper mill --- and wait for the oohs and ahhs..... Buon Apetito!

Note

About cooking dry pasta

I'm sharing tips I've gathered from various places, including the De Cecco Website, La Cucina Popolare (Tuscan Pasta Cooking School) and La Cucina Italiana Magazine (which I HIGHLY recommend to those of you who are serious about learning authentic italian cuisine-culture http://lacucinaitalianamagazine.com)

POT/WATER: Choose a large pot to gather the most possible heat. It has to be wide enough to hold the amount of water needed, i.e. 1 liter of water for every 100 grams of pasta.  (a 1 lb box of fettuccine is 453 gr - so roughly 4.5 times this formula -- or 4.5 liters of water which is 4.75 Quarts).  More water means a better textured pasta.  Crowding your pasta makes it mushy...so don't do it!  If you don't have at least a 6 quart pot, cut your pasta amount down.  You won't be sorry for this tip!

SALT: Pay attention to the salt: most traditions call for water that is "salty like the sea."  Use kosher or sea salt and use in proportion to the amount of water (not in proportion to the amount of pasta!),: 10 g of salt for each liter of water.  (for our recipe we have 4.5 liters of water so we'll use 45 g of salt - that's almost 3 tablespoons).  IMPORTANT:  Italian pasta chefs never salt their pasta dishes.  they ONLY salt the water.  The salt flavors the pasta as it cooks.  Contrary to popular belief, the salt has no bearing on the texture or cooking of the pasta --- it's about the final taste.

COOKING: When the water starts boiling, add the salt and then put the pasta in. De Cecco recommends raising the heat and covering the pot with a lid immediately after adding the dry pasta, to bring the water to a boil again -- then remove the lid for cooking.  After first stirring to separate the pasta, let it cook according to instructions without stirring again.

TIMING:  Now --- here's the part many people just don't seem to get.  If your box instructions say 10 minutes - take it off the heat and drain at 8.5-9 minutes.  The pasta will keep cooking for another minute or so.  Al dente means to the teeth.  the texture of the final pasta needs to give in to the bite without any center "crunch" or hardness, BUT when you bite into the pasta you should feel some resistance, a bit of substance, a sort of meatiness - at the core.   If you question when that is, it is better to undercook pasta than to overcook it.  There's a great article on Italian-Traditions.com (http://www.italian-traditions.com/pasta-al-dente.html) that you should read if you cook pasta regularly and want to get it 'right!'   My last comment about al dente pasta comes from Eataly in New York.  If you get to the City, try it (corner of 5th avenue an 23rd St).  Chefs Mario Batali and Lidia Matticchio Bastianich joined to create Eately and it is truly an Italian gastronomical experience.  There, they actually "warn" customers that they only serve truly "al dente" pasta and some may find it undercooked.

MEATBALLS!

Image

 

The Story:

The first meatballs I remember were my Grandmother’s, but the best of my childhood were definitely my Mom’s. She was the one who taught me to broil them.  The best part was the fragrance they produced while they cooked.  I can close my eyes right now and be transported back to her kitchen and savor the delicious aromas that came in waves from the oven: the onion, garlic, celery cheese and meat …

Mom cooking in the early 80's

Early 80’s Sunday at Mom’s

I don’t think she ever knew – even to this day – how fervently I studied her.  I spent hours watching her mix, stir, bake, broil, boil, and roast.  She would get the basics going for whatever she was cooking or baking and then taste, stir, feel or smell and adjust the components to make her food come to life. She would ask me, “what’s this missing?”  – and now in these shared recipes and stories to you – I advise, “it’s your creation.  Make it exactly as you want it to be…” 

Sundays are for pasta.  They always have been.  I decided to share my meatball recipe today because, well, it’s Sunday and we’re having pasta with meatballs today.  I haven’t decided which pasta to serve with it –  Don likes the thicker ones like rigatoni so either that or fettuccine will accompany them.

As a youngster, we went to my Grandmother’s on Sundays. The table sat 16 and we filled it every week. A pasta course was followed by a meat or fish, and then a salad or sauteed greens, but not if we had meatballs – then it was a one-course deal.

The Setup:

There are as many kinds of meatballs as there are types of pasta.  They can be gigantic, bite-sized, or any size you want.  Some make them flattened, oblong (like little footballs) or even broken up.  I like mine about the size of a golf ball.  That way you can put three on a plate with pasta and it looks like a wonderful serving without looking like you’ve asked to ‘biggie-size it!”

homemade Italian meatballs

Meatballs – closeup and personal

Regardless of the final size and shape you decide to create, consider these important tips:

  1. Always choose the best ingredients you can, as fresh and free from processing and additives as possible.
  2. If you live in an area with an actual butcher, have him or her grind your meat for you from single, fresh, cuts of lamb, beef (or veal), and pork.
  3. Pause for just a moment, and let yourself connect with, in gratitude for, the animal that gave its life for you to have nourishment.
  4. Don’t be afraid of spices and herbs.
  5. Broil or bake your meatballs on a broiler pan to eliminate excess fat.
  6. The primary ingredients in my recipe come in threes (i’m sure by now you see a strong pattern in my cooking – the Trinity influences much of Italian cooking, and most of mine).

The Recipe

My meatballs (makes approximately 80 golf ball sized balls – this recipe is easily divided or doubled)

  • 3 meats:  1 lb each of excellent quality Veal (or lean beef), Pork and Lamb –  ground.
  • 3 cheeses:  1/4 cup each of natural, aged Parmesan, Romano and Asiago – shredded or grated coursely
  • 3 herbs*:  3 tblsp each of basil, oregano, rosemary – finely choped
  • 3 tblsp Celery leaves**,
  • 1 medium sweet onion, very finely minced
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup (or more, depending on your preference) breadcrumbs
  • 1 tsp fine sea or kosher salt
  • 1 tblsp fresh cracked pepper

NOTES about the ingredients:

* if you’re using dried herbs, reduce the amount to approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons of each.  I like to re-hydrate dried herbs by putting them in a pyrex ramekin with a little water, covering with plastic wrap and microwaving them in 20-second intervals until the water is mostly absorbed and the herbs are plumped.

** I prefer to use the leaves from fresh celery hearts, but when I can’t I use re-hydrated celery flakes, prepared as other dried herbs, above.

Preheat oven to 385° (F).  Have ready a 2-piece broiler pan or baking tray with a draining top.

Mix all meats in a large bowl by hand to evenly blend the three.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly – again – to be sure you have an even blending of all ingredients.  I like to do this by hand using a ‘palming and clenching’ or squeezing motion. I find this the best way to evenly distribute all the wonderful elements of this mixture.  I don’t believe it can be done with a spoon as effectively.

Rinse your hands and fill a pot or bowl with cool water and set it beside your meatball mixture.  You’ll use this to keep your hands moistened while you’re forming the balls…it’ll help for quick ball shaping.

meatballs ready for baking

Pinch a quantity of the mixture and roll between the palms of your hands, forming the spherical meatball shape. Place on the ungreased broiler pan, close together (I get all all eighty on the pan, usually 10 rows, 8 across.

Bake until the tops are nicely browned, about 20 minutes.  Remove to a colander to cool for storage or drop them into your sauce.

If you make this recipe and haven’t invited the fifth squadron for dinner, you’re going to have a lot of extra meatballs.  I allow mine to completely cool in the colander I’ve placed in the sink and then place one row in a gallon freezer bag.  They make one perfect row in the bottom of the bag.  Roll toward the zipper end pushing out the air, and lock.  I make several of these rolled bags and put them into another bag, label and freeze (well, actually, Don makes the labels).  Then when we’re in the mood for them, we just pop one roll out and drop them into our sauce.

Rigatoni with meatballs

Sunday Dinner, Rigatoni and Meatballs

Buon apetito!!

New York Style Bagels From Flour to the Schmear!

I hope you enjoy today’s video blog entry about making bagels.  It’s a 12-minute walk through from the very beginning to the end.

Cincopa WordPress plugin

Like English Muffins? They’re better when YOU make them!

Quote

Thanks for all your comments.  I really appreciate them all.

The Story

I want to try to explain the real motive behind my creating a KeadToEat site and blog.  It’s hard for me to put into words the strong connection I feel between the craft, my loved ones and some inexplicable spiritual power (let’s called it divinity)…but I’m going to try.  It is at the very core of who and how I am with food I prepare and the reason this site and blog have emerged.

When I am deciding what to prepare, selecting the ingredients, cooking or baking the food and finally presenting it and sharing it with those I love – I am completely aware of a connection to divinity.  For me (and please understand I have no interest in trying to evangelize my ideas to you – I only want to explain why I’m doing this), each of us – each one of us, has divinity inside us.   The greatest mystics, prophets, spiritual leads – even Christ Himself gave us many lessons to help us understand that.

Jesus was asked when the Kingdom of God would come and responded, “Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)

“I am you; you are ME. You are the waves; I am the ocean. Know this, and be free. Be Divine!”  – Sri Sathya Sai

“On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you…” John 14:20

 If you start with this long tradition of thinking – then it doesn’t take a great leap from that premise to the connection between the preparing and sharing (breaking) of bread as a way  to strengthen and celebrate our joint divinity.  Further, I believe that it is that connection – that bond that we create, that puts us in His presence – Whomever you feel “He” is…

“For wherever two are gathered in my name, there am I….” Matthew 18:20

I believe that the sum of humankind makes up this ‘mystical body’ – and that one way we can bridge the distance and disconnect between these ‘pieces of the divine’ in each of us is through the thoughtful and joyful preparing of great food.

Whatever your belief system, you must know those special moments when we connect with another person and feel something greater than ourselves is present. The feeling is certainly love, and the Spirit that moves through us is surely the driving force behind it.

When a loaf of bread is shared among friends, and those friends are more than just conscious of what is happening they share in perhaps the greatest tradition of humanity.  For thousands of years, cultures have celebrated this experience.  Perhaps the most celebrated (and possibly one of the least understood) example is from the Christian New Testament.  Christ chose the setting of an intimate meal with those closest to Him to explain how He was the Bread of Life and by sharing in the meal He blessed and broke, we too would begin to understand His presence inside us.

I forget this sometimes, but I believe that He is present in what I make for my family and friends.  I feel the spirit moving through me as I select what I’ll prepare each day.  It is the most wonderful feeling in my life and for any of you who haven’t made this connection, I invite you to just be still inside a moment while you’re at the grocery and think about the value of what you’re doing.

It’s never just about eating for eating’s sake.  While we give ourselves sustenance, we have an opportunity to deepen our connection with each other and with a greater Power than ourselves.  Just think about it, anyway.

So, let’s bake some muffins together!

The Setup

YEAST:  I like to use Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast.  It comes in packets (each equal to approximately 2 1/4 teaspoons) and in a jar (which I prefer – just keep it in the fridge and it will last a long while).

When using dry yeast, let it become creamy in a little water first.  Keep in mind that the yeast will re-hydrate and become active with just a little warm water.  Too hot and you’ll kill it, too cool and it will just take a little longer.  You’ll see that some of my bread recipes just use a pinch of yeast and a long (overnight in the refrigerator) rising period and others use more and only need an hour or 90 minutes to work.  It depends mostly on your schedule.  For me it’s very convenient to have fresh bread for dinner by mixing things up quickly after today’s meal and baking it tomorrow while I’m preparing the rest of the dinner.

For this recipe, which I usually start around 6:30 am to have them fresh for a Saturday or Sunday breakfast, I use a bit more yeast and have a quicker rise time.

FLOUR:  “The Staff of Life.”  – well that’s not exactly scriptural, but we’ve associated wheat that way for thousands of years.  This subject of grain deserves a post of its own and I’ll make a note to share my research with you later.  For now, let’s just say that my favorite is King Arthur.  Their unbleached, all-purpose flour has more protein than most others on the market so by using it, I don’t have to buy “bread flour” for my bread-baking most of the time.  My kitchen doesn’t have a huge amount of storage space, so I really can’t store various bags of  of flour – and this one works for most things. For homemade pasta I add some semolina to it, for Whole Grain I add other grains to it – but – you decide – it’s YOUR craft!

MIXER:  You don’t have to have a stand mixer to bake bread.  My Mother and Grandmother only used their hands and strength to knead and I have to say that there is something really special about that hand-to-dough connection —    I always do the big work with my KitchenAid mixer and then finish it on my board with my hands.  If you’re thinking seriously about baking (and kneading) regularly – it’s a great investment (or gift. – Thank you Joyce, for my wonderful gift!).

 

MILK: I’ve moved to organic products when I can.  As I mentioned before, I think there could be a correlation between some of the many ailments we have and the unknown effects of all the additives we get in our American diet.  Also – it’s doesn’t take a giant leap of understanding if you’ve read my thoughts about what’s going on inside our hearts for you to see that I give thanks to those cows that lent me their milk – and, as such I prefer it unadulterated!

SALT:  I like to use pure sea salt.  It comes directly from nature and is processed very little. “Table” salt has additives, and we don’t need them.  The FDA allows table salt sold in the US to contain as much as 2% of the total weight in additives.  Potassium iodide is added at levels of 0.006 to 0.010% (as KI) to help aid against Iodine deficiencies.  While an iodine deficiency is serious, two servings of seafood and/or fish each week is all we need (You will learn if you follow this blog that I believe that everything we need can be found in nature and we do not know enough to show that any processed additive is safe, or that its benefits outweigh its potential long-term bad side effects.  Dextrose, (yes, dextrose!) is permitted also. When it is added, (typically at about 0.04%), it acts as a stabilizer for potassium iodide in salt, preventing it from dissociating into “free” iodine, which may be lost from the salt through simple vaporization.

In other words Iodine is added which you can easily get in nature and then sugar is added to your salt to keep the iodine working.  In addition, anti-caking agents are also added to table salt.  The most often used additive is sodium ferrocyanide, also known as Yellow Prussiate of Soda (YPS). Another is ferric ferrocyanide, also known as Prussian Blue. They are added in amounts of 20 to 100 ppm.

The Recipe (makes 24 regular or 18 really big muffins)

  • 1-1/3 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons white sugar
  • 3 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1-1/3 cups warm water (100-110 degrees, just slightly warmer than your own body temperature)
  • 1/3 cup melted shortening
  • 8 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour (I prefer King Arthur organic)
  • 1-1/4 teaspoons sea or kosher salt
  • Something round to cut them out with between 3 3/4 and 4 1/2″ in diameter.
  • Parchment paper or waxed paper
  • Cornmeal
  1. Put yeast in a small bowl and pour warm water over it. Let it stand until it’s creamy  – about 10 minutes or so, depending on your room temperature.
  2. While your yeast is rehydrating and springing to life, warm the milk in a small saucepan until it just starts to boil.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in sugar until it is dissolved.
  4. Allow the sweetened milk to cool slightly (you want things a little warm, but too hot and you will kill your yeast.)
  5. In a large bowl (I put these into my stand mixer bowl with the paddle attachment, medium speed), combine the milk, yeast mixture, shortening and 2 cups flour. Beat until smooth.
  6. Change the paddle for the dough hook and add salt and the rest of the flour, or enough to make a soft dough.
  7. Knead by mixer for 6-8 minutes, by hand for 8-10 minutes. Either way, turn it onto a lightly floured board and knead by hand while you form it into a smooth ball.
  8. Place in greased bowl (I use olive oil – only takes a little), cover, and let rise until doubled (approximately 90 minutes at 72 degrees).
  9. Deflate the dough by gently pushing at it and turn it onto a floured work surface.
  10. Roll out to about 1/2 inch thick.
  11. Cut rounds with biscuit cutter, a glass, a mug or whatever you have that’s about 3 3/4″-4″ in diameter.  I use the can that holds my biscuit cutter set which is 4 1/2″ in diameter (I like the bigger muffins).
  12. Sprinkle parchment or waxed paper with cornmeal to place the cutout muffins on.
  13. Dust tops with cornmeal, cover with a piece of plastic wrap or a linen towel and let rise again for about 30 minutes.
  14. Heat a lightly greased griddle to medium. I use two griddles so that I can cook them faster, one that covers two of my range burners, and an electric plug-in (really cheap, bought it at Wal-Mart only for this purpose).
  15. Cook muffins on griddle about 10 minutes on each side on medium heat.
  16. Keep a baking sheet in the oven set at 175 degrees (F).  as you remove the baked muffins, stack them in the warm oven until all have been cooked.
  17. Allow to cool. If you want them fork-split (to give you more of that ‘nook and cranny’ texture), just stab them with a dinner fork around the perimeter, then place in freezer bags for storage.
  18. To use, split and toast.

Live Long and Eat Muffins!

 

30-Minute Vodka Sauce, with Shrimp — YUM!

Now that you have a boatload of wonderful tomato sauce in your freezer, let’s make a delicious vodka sauce over campanelle (bells) pasta with shrimp.

The Story

I have no childhood story to share with you about this wonderful sauce.  No one in my family ever made it. The first time I had it was during a trip to Italy in the 1980’s. I remember the rich sauce and loved the use of a more complex-shaped pasta (I think it was cavatappi (corkscrews) I had with that first taste of this dish.  Now I’m happy to share it with you.

The Setup

I usually make this sauce three days after I make my basic red sauce, because I keep some leftover sauce in the refrigerator in addition to those packets I freeze – and because, by now you must see the “trinity” pattern in almost everything I cook.  Three days of rest in your refrigerator and your sauce will be amazingly full bodied and rich.

I like to add a protein to this dish, usually Shrimp or Scallops (because they’re Don’s favorites) or sometimes left over grilled pork tenderloin.

For the pasta, I use either campanelle, fusilli (little spindles) or farfalle (butterflies) with this dish.  Let’s talk a moment about pasta.  The best pasta is made from hard, winter durum semolina that holds up to minutes of boiling water without turning into a gummy mess.  It’s easy today to find a good quality pasta.  Barilla is available at many supermarkets and it’s the #1 seller in Italy.  I really like the Private Reserve brand from Kroger!  It holds a beautiful al dente texture and doesn’t fall apart.  I also like to buy DiCecco, but it’s not as readily found in middle Tennessee it seems.   Whichever you buy – please don’t ruin it by overcooking it.  Here’s my general rule of thumb:  Whatever it says on the package, reduce it by 2 minutes.  After 5 minutes of boiling water, fish one out and blow on it and, well – eat it!  But don’t just eat it, really study it.  Does it give to the teeth but still resist a bit?  it’s done! Is the core just a bit tough still?  It’s done!  Remember: it will continue to cook over the next few minutes so always err on the underdone side.  Never, ever wait until you feel like it’s at it’s serving texture to take it off the heat!

For the “cheese trinity” called for in the recipe – I like to use the following three cheeses in the best quality I can find: Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano with Asiago and Pecorino Romano (Locatelli brand if I can find it).  I look for it to be on sale at a local cheese department and buy large wedges of the three.  Don usually grates them for me, and we use both the large and small discs of the shredder on my food processor.  We make about two pounds at a time and keep it in a zip-lock bag (rolled up to keep as much air out of it as possible) in the refrigerator.  It doesn’t last long, anyway! :-)

The Recipe

(serves 4)

  • 2 cups prepared tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried cayenne pepper
  • 1 lb of dried pasta (campanelle, fusilli, cavatappi, spirelli or other)
  • 1 cup of cream
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese trinity (explained above)
  • 1 lb of cleaned fresh or thawed raw shrimp (16-20 count size)

Start by filling your pasta pot with at least 6 quarts of water on high heat and bring to a boil.  Before it boils and starts to produce steam add “enough sea salt that the water tastes like the sea” — usually that’s about 2-3 tablespoons to a large pot of boiling water.

While the water’s heating up start your sauce.  If you’re using a packet of your previously frozen sauce, break off a small piece (approximately 1/2 cup) and place it in a saucepan with just enough water to wet the bottom of the pot (about 1/4 cup – just to keep the frozen chunk of sauce from scorching).  If you saved some fresh sauce in the refrigerator, then omit the water and just put about 1/2 cup in the saucepan.  Heat until it begins to bubble and stir in the vodka.  Continue to stir on fairly high heat to let the alcohol evaporate, and then add the rest of your tomato sauce.

Simmer the sauce for a few minutes and add the cayenne (which is completely optional – we just like this sauce, which is quite rich, to be cut and spiced a little with the pepper)

 

 

It’s time to put your pasta in the boiling water.

Back to your sauce. Add the cream and continue to simmer.  Add your shrimp, turn the heat up to medium and cover the pot.

Check the pasta and drain into a colander, reserving a cup of the pasta water (just pour a little into a coffee mug you place in the sink next to your colander).  If your sauce is too thick, thin it with just a little of the pasta water you have held back.

Check the shrimp. they only need to cook a couple minutes.  If they’re nearly white, they’re done.  Stir the cheese into the sauce, turn off the heat and cover it up again.

Spoon the pasta into your favorite bowls and ladle the sauce and shrimp over it.  Sprinkle with a little more cheese and fresh, course-ground pepper.

Buon Apetito!

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Tomato Sauce

Image

Today I decided to jump right into it.  For an Italian, our tomato sauce is as personal and unique as our fingerprints.   You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t think their’s is the best.  And yours will be the best, too — because you’re going to make it exactly as you like it to taste!

The Story

My Grandmother’s was savory, dark and rich from a long slow simmering of ‘mashed’ tomatoes.  My Mom’s is smooth from pureed tomatoes and paste, lighter than her mother’s and slightly sweet.  My Aunt Theresa’s was spicier and always had some dry spiced pork in it.  Mine is the outcome of a blending of those three.  It’s chunky, dark and rich – has cooked long enough to get a full bloom on the aromatic herbs in it, never sweet except for the sweetness of the tomatoes you used (and it’s okay to put a little sweetener if your tomatoes were bitter — if I find I must, I use just a bit of local honey).

Then there’s the age-old argument about whether it’s called “sauce” or “gravy” — a silly argument that I think is just to make one or another Italian-American faction feel somehow “less Italian.”  The debate is moot, anyway — in Italy it’s neither sauce nor gravy.  In the motherland, it’s salsa (di pomodoro) or Ragú (di Carne).  The word Gravy came into the language after 1066 when the French Normans conquered England (gravé was a “brothy dressing for meat or fish,” as described by John Nott in his Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary (London, 1726). The Pilgrims brought the word to New England and Italian immigrants who lived in the northeast learned the word gravy as a translation of dressing.   So — there is no “gravy” in Italian – in fact, there is no “y” in the Italian alphabet! – the word is Old English from older French and since we’re communicating in fairly modern English – let’s just call it sauce!

To me, the main difference between baking and cooking is the ratio of science to spirit.  When you’re baking popovers, it’s almost entirely about the science of leavening with steam.  With sauce (and most cooking) it’s more about taste and quality of the basic ingredients, guided by your own spirit and love.

The Setup

For something as important and basic as tomato sauce, you have to start with excellent quality ingredients to get an excellent quality product.  For today’s post, obviously that starts with what tomatoes you use.  

If you can’t go to your garden for fully ripe, San Marzano plum tomatoes, you don’t have the best ingredients.  BUT don’t get your panties in a bunch – there is a wonderful second string available everywhere.  For many years I have used Pomi tomatoes exclusively. Pomi is a brand of the Parmalat company and comes is a wax carton.  The only ingredients are superb plum tomatoes and salt.  There’s a wonderful description on the Pomi homepage at http://pomi.us.com/home.php:

Pomì, the authentic Italian passata (strained tomatoes) was created in Parma, Italy in 1935…In 1982, Pomì, the tomato revolution, was introduced successfully in the Unites States. Since its introduction, Pomì quality and convenience has been appreciated by millions of consumers.
Pomì has become a staple and a trusted brand for all those who seek premium quality, Italian tomatoes conveniently sealed in a BPA-free, stay-fresh package, ready to use anytime they want to add the fresh taste of garden-ripe, Italian tomatoes to all their favorite recipes.

Most people cannot taste the necessary additives in canned tomatoes, but I can. Even in the purest of canned products, citric acid and calcium chloride are added to promote color stabilization and keep the tomatoes from getting mushy.  I think they add a metallic and tangy component that turns me off (I get that same bitter metal taste in baked goods that contain baking powder that isn’t aluminum-free).

Because Pomi is vacuum-sealed in wax cartons nothing has to be added but a little sea salt.  Try them once and I think you’ll be hooked (this is not a paid advertisement for Pomi – but maybe i should think about it :-) ).  I can buy Pomi at WholeFoods, Publix, some Krogers and other regular supermarkets.  I get a good case price from time to time from CostPlus World Market.  Typically these tomatoes cost around $3.00 a pack, so they’re not cheap but we’re talking about a super quality sauce after all. A Google search on their prices at the time of this posting shows a range from $2.49 to $3.99, so it’s a good thing to do a little research and, when possible, buy bulk!

Next let’s look at the herbs and spices.  Again, it’s really up to what you like, but my basic sauce has garlic, onion, olive oil, and basil (and/or oregano, depending on how the spirit moves me that day).

The quality of each of these ingredients will affect your sauce as much as the quantity so examine the source, age and taste of each of them.

OIL:  I only use Pompeian Extra-Virgin, first cold-pressed olive oil.  I’ve tried them all, and it is a very individual decision, but I love the fruity, full-bodied olive flavor that I experience from Pompeian.  Kitchen Daily did a blind taste test of the top-selling supermarket brands and rated it first place (http://main.kitchendaily.com/2011/09/23/the-best-extra-virgin-olive-oil), but then other research (especially one from UC Davis) seemed to indicate that most of the supermarket brands were closer to whores than virgins. Nonetheless, I really like Pompeian.  You decide for yourself.

GARLIC:

Use fresh garlic.  There’s a vast difference between a clove you’ve pulled off the bulb and the one you you squeeze from a tube or shake from a bottle.  When you buy the garlic, look for firm, clean, tight bulbs that don’t have brown spots or loose air pockets. make sure by gentle pressure that the cloves under the skin are firm and tightly packed.  Store your garlic in a light-blocking container with air holes.  Never keep your garlic in the refrigerator, as this will change the taste and dehydrate the cloves.  If the bulb or cloves have green shoots coming up from them, cut those off and discard before cooking – they have a bitter taste.

ONION:  Many people don’t use onion in their sauce, but I like to use a sweet vidalia onion in mine.  Once again – buy a good onion.  NEVER use dehydrated or powdered or tube paste onions.  These products may have a place, but not in our sauce
BASIL:  I just grow my own.  It.’s easy and you can grow a basil plant almost anywhere.  Basil is an essential element of cooking for me.  It’s one part of the Trinity of Italian cooking and an important leg of the basic herbs in Thai and other Asian cooking.  Of course I have beautiful basil plants in my garden.basil varietiesI also have a basic Genovese plant right outside my kitchen growing in a pot.  In a later post I’ll show how to keep basil for use throughout the year after you’ve harvested the leaves.

OREGANO: Okay, I realize that there is a big debate on this one.  For some, oregano is only used in spicy, extra ‘special’ sauces, like puttanesca or pizzaiolo sauces.  I read a post that said for the Calabrese, adding oregano to a basic sauce was a mortal sin (but somehow I doubt that my Calabrese Nonna is spending her eternity sweating over her use of it)!  My Mom always uses oregano and rarely basil in her sauce.  For me, if I want an extra little herby kick, I use some oregano I have harvested from my garden.  Just keep in mind, a little goes a long way.

So with that background let’s put it together, KneadToEat style!

The Recipe (Forgive me, I have NEVER attempted to put measurements on any of this before!)

This recipe makes a lot of sauce.  If you’re going to all the trouble to pull together the very best ingredients you can find, why not make enough to freeze for several subsequent dinners?  I’m going to show you in later posts how to make a half dozen unique, fantastic sauces that start with this basic one.

(all ingredients are approximate – experiment to YOUR taste!)

  • 1/4 cup of Olive Oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced fine
  • 1/2 cup of chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, crushed
  • 4 26oz packs of Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1 26oz pack of Pomi strained tomatoes
  • Fresh milled black pepper
  • Sea salt
Prepare all the ingredients as indicated above before you start to cook and put them in little bowls or piles on your cutting board.  Also, cut open the tomato cartons.  The timing of when you add these ingredients is important to my recipe and you won’t have time to mince or chop or open once you start to cook.
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan on medium-high heat until it starts to ‘quiver.’
Add chopped onions and saute until they are tender and translucent.  I like to cook them until they just begin to show a tiny bit of browning at their edges.  I also use a lid to let steam assist in the process so they’re not just ‘fried.’
Stir in the minced garlic and watch carefully – you don’t want the garlic to brown, it will make your sauce bitter.  It’s okay to turn down the heat if you think it’s cooking too fast.
At this point, I add just a little of the chopped tomatoes, somewhat less than a cup.  It stops the frying effect to the onions and garlic.
Stir in your basil and oregano, and about a teaspoon of fresh, course-ground pepper.
Bring your heat up to med-high and cook this base mixture for several minutes.  This vigorous cooking method forces the herbs and spices to ‘bloom’ full-flavor before you ‘drown’ everything in tomatoes.  For me, adding the spices and herbs to a full pot of tomatoes takes hours to gain the full flavor of the additives. If you’re not planning to simmer your sauce, like my Grandmother did, all day long – try this “force bloom” method of mine.  It works like a charm and helps when you’ve been at the office all day and don’t have 3-5 hours to make your sauce – or in case you’re on “Chopped” or another competitive cooking show and have to develop depth and layers of flavors in less that 30 minutes! :-)
Now, begin to add the rest of your tomatoes.  Start with the remainder of the first carton of chopped Pomi, maintaining the high heat and stirring the sauce to incorporate your flavor base into the fresh tomatoes.  Let that cook down a bit – about 5 minutes-  then continue this add-stir-cook down process until you’ve put in all your chopped tomatoes.  continue to cook and stir at fairly high heat for several minutes.
Finally add your strained tomatoes and reduce to a medium-simmer.
Grind sea salt across the top of the sauce (approximately a teaspoon – but, hey, it’s YOUR sauce!).
Notice the (what I call) sauce line around the top of your pot, created by the slight drying of the sauce against the side.  That’s your start line, don’t scrape it all away!  Your sauce is ready when you’ve reduced the volume by about 1.5 inches (in my 8-quart pot) from that line – or when you love the density, color, taste and texture.  It’s not ready to serve until YOU love it.
This was dinner last night.   Don loved it.  And that’s what this whole blog is about, anyway!   We’ll talk about the meatballs later.
Take notice on how much sauce you are using for your dinner.  That’s how much you should put into several freezer bags when you’re cleaning up after dinner.  I like to put a “dinner’s portion” in the bags, lay them flat on a shelf in the freezer, and then when they’re frozen I stand them on their sides like books on a shelf and use them for subsequent dinners or to add to one of MANY other sauces.
Buon apetito!

 

 

 

Make Popovers that POP

Popovers 

are really amazing, when you think about them.  Just a few common ingredients; flour, eggs, milk and for some, butter.  But once science and the Holy Spirit get at them – WOW! What a glorious thing!  For this reason, I think i’m in LOVE with Shirley Corriher!

 

The Story

In 1985 I was studying musical theater on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  In those days it was tough enough to scrape up subway tokens to get to work at night on 23rd street from school so we were very “creative” in how we ate during the day.  And we had to eat, after all.  We took 3 hours of dance and movement every day and had to get fuel just to stay vertical on cue.

It was really the only time in my life that I understood the direct correlation between available energy and eating.  Growing up in a big Italian family meant that food was always there.  It was either being unpacked, prepared, blessed or eaten at all times.   I can’t tell you I honestly remember ever eating because I needed to eat or because I was truly hungry.  I ate, mostly, because it was time to eat.  Now, after leaving my home state of West Virginia, my job at Wheeling Jesuit University and all that was familiar to me for the Big Apple and its promise of excitement and maybe even some fame and fortune, I found myself in a place and time where food was, well, essential to life.

During the day I was a 28 year old student with stars in my eyes and from 4-midnight I worked as an admissions telemarketer for a place called the Center for Media Arts.  From each little paycheck I received, I had to take out enough money for subway tokens for the week, my rent, electric bill and laundromat expense, a coffee and an apple every morning, and something for dinner each night.  During the day while at school, however, is when we got really creative.

One of my classmates discovered a new restaurant just up and around the corner from school called the Popover Cafe. For a few dollars three of us could get a basket of the giant puffed wonders with all the condiments we could pile on.  I had never tasted anything so luxurious, so mysterious – so addictive as those morsels.

Many years later I started to make them for myself.  I’m not sure why I waited so long to try my hands at them, or even why I eventually did.  Maybe I was trying to recapture my youthful glory days in NYC, perhaps I wanted to show off my culinary prowess to some brunch guests or maybe I just never got their elusive aroma, texture or taste from my mind and subconsciously had to know I could conjure them up at my own whim – but I did start to make them.

First I used the Betty Crocker recipe.  I remember that first time making making them. They were every bit the miracles I remembered them to be.  They popped big, stayed up and tasted great. “Easy,” I thought, “I am a popover baker.”

My second attempt a few months later was, well, an embarrassment. I had 4 guests asleep and I was going to surprise them with rich coffee, and assortment of cheeses and jams and my beautiful popovers.  They didn’t pop.  They showed a little promise while I watched them in the oven, but they came out ugly, deflated, and gummy inside.   Stripped of my title and pride, I rushed to the store and bought some muffins for my guests.  What little self-esteem I had left was to be saved for my meatballs later in the day.

My popover experience over the next few years was hit or miss. I followed recipes exactly.  I compared and contrasted Ina Garten’s recipe to Martha Stewart’s, from Paul Deen’s to the Joy of Cooking (and of Baking!).  I tried the King Arthur Flour recipe, the Pillsbury recipe and countless others.  Oh,  I did have some success.  From time to time I produced puffs that could bring a tear to my eyes…. but more often than not, they were not tears of joy.

And then I found Shirley.

I mean, just look at her.  Have you every seen a face more full of life, of love and of joy? I was Googling “how to guarantee big popovers” and POOF! There she was. Shirley Corriher is a biochemist and author of CookWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking, winner of a James Beard Foundation award, and BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking. 

CookWise shows how scientific insights can be applied to traditional cooking, while BakeWise applies the same idea to baking.  You may have seen her on her various appearances on Alton Brown’s show Good Eats.  I hadn’t seen or heard of her before.  I’ve never actually met her.  But nonetheless, when I saw this picture of her hands in a clear expression of Hallelujah! it was love at first sight. or site.  

The Setup

Ms. Corriher (since i haven’t actually met her I feel a little fresh calling her by her first name) explained the process so clearly, so thoroughly and yet succinctly that I knew they would work even before the first time I tried her recipe:  The big secret of popovers is that everything is as warm as you can get it—the pan, heat from the bottom, the batter—everything….  The milk and flour need to stand about an hour so that the flour is fully hydrated…. Adding hot cream to warm the batter just before it goes in the oven helps the batter to heat fast, producing steam for a great rise….  Egg whites will make drier, crisper puffs. ”  These are her recipe tips. 

Then she breaks down the actual baking process so that we can know what’s really going on inside that hotbox.  Nearly every recipe warns “Don’t open the oven…”   but that’s where their lessons stop.  Ms. C dissects it for us:

 “Popovers are steam-leavened. You have to get the batter hot fast to produce steam to inflate a strong, balloon-like protein structure of eggs and flour.

You also have the great oven fight. The batter or dough needs to get warm fast to rise before heat from the top of the oven causes a crust to form and hold the batter down. In years gone by, fail-safe popovers were put into a cold oven and then the oven was turned up. The heating element in stoves of the past was in the bottom of the oven. So, with a blast of heat from the bottom and no hot top oven to hold the dough down, the popover exploded to good heights beautifully.

Nowadays, however, the heat comes from all over in modern ovens. They are designed to preheat fast — like in 10 minutes or less. If you put something in a cold oven and turn the heat up, heating units in the top and bottom and anywhere else that the oven has them come on full blast and can burn any food in the oven to a crisp. So what can we do to get heat from the bottom? My solution is to use a baking stone and absolutely never open the oven door until the popovers are totally done.”   

She also changes the temperature three times during the baking.  This Trinity of  baking temperatures and times work the magic of the ‘pop.’   The first phase, The Father, is at 475 degrees (F) where a very rapid leavening will astonish you.  During the Father Phase your popovers will nearly double in height.  The second Phase, The Son, starts 9 minutes later.  At this point you drop the temperature to 425.  This causes the heat source to shut off for a bit, keeping the tops from browning….but the baking stone has retained enough of the high heat to provide a constant even source of hellfire to keep pushing those emerging buds ever higher and now you’ll notice they start to take on wonderful complex, individual, irregular shapes.
Seven minutes later The Holy Spirit takes over.  In this final baking phase the oven temperature is reduced to 325 for 25-30 minutes and during this time, in lower heat, the formed shapes are set and tempered.  I’ve tried short-changing this phase. Don’t do it.  Let’s just say the Holy Spirit doesn’t like to be rushed.  I promise you they will deflate if you rush Phase Three.

The Recipe 

  • 5 large eggs
  • 1½ cups whole milk
  • 13/4 cups, spooned and leveled, Pillsbury bread flour (I’ve also had great success with King Arthur unbleached, all-purpose)
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
Place the 5 eggs in a bowl of very hot tap water to warm. After a while, drain and cover again with very hot tap water.

In a heavy saucepan, warm the milk until it feels warm to the touch. Place the flour in a large mixing bowl (if you have a large measuring cup with a spout, that is great for pouring the batter later). With a fork or whisk, beat in the milk a little at a time to prevent forming lumps. Allow flour-milk mixture to stand at room temperature for at least an hour.
After the flour mixture has been standing for about 15 minutes, arrange a shelf in the lower third of the oven with a baking stone on it and preheat the oven to 475 degrees. If you think that your oven is low, turn it to 500 degrees. It is important that the oven be very hot.

After the flour mixture has stood for over an hour, place the popover pan in the oven on the stone to heat.

Separate 3 eggs, saving the whites and discarding or storing the yolks. Beat the 2 whole eggs and 3 egg whites together. Beat in about ½ cup of the flour mixture, and then beat the egg mixture into the flour mixture.

Heat the cream almost to a boil. Sprinkle salt over the batter and whisk in the hot cream.

Pull the hot popover pan out of the oven. I like to place the pan over the sink. Spray one cup of the popover pan well with nonstick cooking spray and immediately pour batter into that cup, filling over 3/4 full.

This 6-cup batch of filling is exactly enough for 6 cups. Repeat spraying and then filling each cup.

Place the popover pan on the hot stone and bake for 9 minutes. Do not open the oven. Turn down the heat to 425 degrees and bake for 7 minutes more. Do not open the oven. Turn down the oven to 325 degrees, and leave the popovers in 20 to 25 minutes more for the popovers to dry out.


When you take them out….

I find that piercing them with a knife helps to let any trapped steam out…which is a good idea – it will help they stay crisp.
Turn the pan onto a rack to cool for a few minutes. 

Serve immediately with really good butter and preserves, or some wonderful sharp provolone cheese and honey.   
Shirley says (yes, now that we’ve followed her recipe we feel we can use first names), that “You can make these several hours ahead and rewarm at 300 degrees for 5 minutes,” but I think it’s worth getting up 2 hours before everyone else so that when family or friends wake up their heavenly aroma is wafting through their rooms…

When they are completely cool, you can seal them in heavy-freezer zip-top-type bags and freeze.  To reheat them: 300 degree oven for about 5 minutes.

Makes 6 large popovers.

Food prepared with Love and Shared with Family and Friends is Prayer made Manifest.

-mbm 09/01/2012