Category Archives: how to

Sometimes all the stars align

Yesterday afternoon, after shaping a batch of bagels in the morning, I had a good amount of revived starter left over, with a bit of rye flour thrown in for flavour and colour. After 30 hours out of the fridge it was looking even more boisterous, full of those gluten strings, and just asking to be made into a loaf of bread.

I hadn’t made anything yet from Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet, and I’d noticed that Dan had included a few pages on sourdough, so I checked to see whether were any new recipes. There weren’t recipes per sé, but there was something better: encouragement to experiment. He suggested adding leaven to the Easy White Bread recipe and reducing the amount of water. I did that, tweaking a bit further with a tablespoon of honey and substituting 50 grams of spelt flour for strong white (Waitrose Canadian). After the usual knead/rest cycles, I let the ball of dough rise for a few hours, then just before bed I then shaped it into a batard per the method in The Handmade Loaf. Calling on my friend Joanna’s guidance, which she may not even remember offering, I left the shape for 10 minutes and then came back and did it over, managing to get tapered ends.

But would the shape hold up after proofing? I swaddled the dough in floured baking parchment and a tea towel, tucking it diagonally into a small roasting tin (that would fit in the fridge) with more folded tea towels in the other corners to support it, and then left it to chill overnight. In the morning, the unwrapped loaf from the fridge was still nicely proportioned and in no danger of slopping out to the sides. I whacked the oven on, putting in my trusty pastry and dough-shaping marble slab; it had never occurred to me that it would be a good baking stone after I banished my el cheapo pizza stone to the garden. I probably should’ve decided how long it needed to heat up and stuck to it, but I couldn’t wait; I think it was 25 minutes, or at least the time it took to eat cereal, read the front section of yesterday’s paper, and drink half a cup of coffee. I made two overlapping, slightly angled, 1/4″ slashes as for a baguette – again per Joanna’s guidance – with a sharp serrated knife as I can’t get lames and razor blades to work for me, sprayed the top of the loaf with water, and slid it on to the hot stone. Ten minutes in I regretted forgetting to sprinkle flour on top, but in the end I don’t think it matters.

Et voilà!

Above is the crumb. I left it a bit on the moist (but done) side, and then learned today from my friend Azelia‘s blog that in this state it can soften the crust – which it did. It’s fine, though: chewy.

Azelia also asked, today, what we like about sourdough. I like the solid, substantial texture it seems to have, and it would be ridiculous for me to speculate why that is, though I suspect one or more of my baking buddies can. And it just tastes good, though ‘sourdough’ is really, often, a misnomer. Sure, the sourdough they sell to tourists in the San Francisco airport is distinctly (to me, unpleasantly) tangy, but what I usually make from my starter, whatever the bread recipe, just tastes mouthfilling (how vague is that?) and holds up to a number of sandwich ingredients or spreads, and also toasts well.

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Filed under baking, bread, cooking, how to, sourdough

How to make a falafel dinner

RYMFB4ZQPTT6 Falafel, in the Middle East, is a stealth vegetarian meal. Everyone likes it (at least, everyone I’ve met), it’s the perfect street food, it’s so tasty that no one misses the meat, and it’s a great way to get extra vegetables into your diet.

There’s an ongoing argument about the provenance of falafel – a fried, seasoned ball of ground chickpeas – and who owns the original idea, but it’s a basic staple of the eastern Mediterranean. Some of the best falafel is found in grittier areas of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The concept is thus: you order a whole or a half sandwich, and choose from toppings to stuff precariously into your pita. Those toppings include a rainbow of shredded or chopped salads, fried eggplant, chips (in the British sense), tahini sauce, and a super-hot Yemeni condiment called zhug, which I think you have to be Yemeni to pronounce correctly.

Oh, the memories. No, I won’t tell you how old those memories are, but I did live in Israel for 10 months in my early 20s so you can do the math if you have the right additional info.

The international chain Maoz, now in big cities in Europe and North America, is very, very good, but it’s fun and possible to have a real falafel experience at home, from scratch. (That said, I tried making falafel recently when I was cooking for myself – I’ve done it before, I swear – and dangit! they fell apart. It is a bit of a stretch to try and nail fresh pita bread AND fresh falafel AND two or three toppings by one’s self in a few hours. The pics are from a more relaxed and successful attempt.)

Here are the elements:

Tahini sauce – tahini from a jar (the Lebanese kind is best), thinned with water and lemon juice and with some chopped garlic mixed in, like hummous without the chickpeas
‘Israeli salad’ – simply chopped cucumbers and tomatoes
Pitta or pita bread – Worth making yourself, I swear, and surprisingly easy. Try this recipe if you’re used to working with cup measurements, and this one if you prefer weights and have a gram scale; I’ve had good success with both. Whether or not you make them in advance, wrap them in a towel as they come out of the oven to keep them soft.
Chips or french fries – not a requirement, but I love them, and they are a traditional falafel stuffing in Israel
Falafel – ah. Here’s where I have to be a bit bashful and confess that I tend to use a mix, as falafel made thus are quick, tasty, and reliable. I promise that I will continue to work toward my own recipe for falafel from scratch. Watch this space! Update: Here is a post from Zeb Bakes full of super-useful tips on rolling your own, from dried fava beans. I think that means I’m next!
Zhug – it really does help set off the flavours to include something spicy. Here is a legit one from The Atlantic so as to avoid linking to one out there that seems to have been ripped off without permission.
Eggplant – thin, fried (or oven fried) slices are a very nice addition.

You can also look around for vinegary pickled cucumbers or other vegetables, and maybe throw together a salad of shredded carrots or beets.

Enjoy and let us know how it goes!

RYMFB4ZQPTT6

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Filed under baking, cooking, dinner, food, how to, Israel, Jewish, vegan, vegetarian