Quick Bread Recipe

This very simple bread making approach was published in the New York Times in November 2007, and I began making it about a month later. It was an instant hit as judged by the responses of others. Of course I like it a lot too. Click here to get access the recipe details at the Times. Or it can be found in a book titled Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking. I've not yet obtained or read this book, but if this recipe is an indication, it won't be long before there are more bread recommendations coming from it.

This recipe results in a dense, yeasty loaf that can have a strong crust, or a bit less if you reduce overall cooking time. I have primarily portioned it into 3 loaves, but have made a few smaller loaves with equal success.

Why is this recipe so good?

  • Ease - after 5 minutes of preparation, there is only one additional step, which takes very little skill to master.
  • No kneading - which means not only less work, but no variability based on kneading time, technique, etc.
  • Taste, look and feel - as good as any of the highest quality artisan bread.
What you need:

  • Ingredients: Bread flour (highly recommended, though all-purpose will suffice), Kosher salt, yeast, warm water. Cornmeal for dusting.  
  • Equipment: a large bowl, a cutting board or pizza peel, a baking stone (a must) and a rimmed baking sheet / pan.
The approach:
  1. Mixing: combine 3 cups warm water, 1.5 tablespoons yeast and1.5 tablespoons salt to dissolve. Stir in 6.5 cups of flour.  use a soft spatula, and fold the wet and dry ingredients gently. The dough will be pretty loose and pretty wet.
  2. Rising: Set aside for 2 to 5 hours. Can be refrigerated overnight. If you leave uncovered overnight in a fridge, erratic crusty formations will harden on the top of the dough, which make a great "artisan" look and feel.  
  3. Pre-heat: Heat your oven at 450 degrees, with baking stone(s) placed on a middle rack, and a rimmed baking pan on oven floor or lowest rack.  Preheat for at least 45 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle a small handful of cornmeal over a baking peel or cutting board.   
  5. Forming: While oven is heating, using well-floured hands, pull dough away from the sides of the bowl, and turn upside down onto a marble/stone or well floured surface. Cut ough into thirds. Dust "wet" edges of dough with flour, turn upside down, and form a loaf shape, keeping the hardened crusty top in a prominent and attractive position. Repeat to form three loaves. Place loaves onto a making peel or cutting board. After setting the loaf down, twist it in a circular motion to ensure it doesn't stick.
  6. Let loaves rise an additional 20-40 minutes.
  7. Slide loaves onto stones in hot oven. Pour 1 cup of cool water into the sheet pan and quickly shut the oven door. Cook approximately 20 minutes, checking color to determine final cooking time.
Final comments: There are only two really tricky parts of this recipe. Forming the loaves is first, as the dough is pretty sticky and hard to work with. The process of sliding the dough into the oven takes a little finesse, also because of the stickiness of the dough. Be sure to use plenty of cornmeal and spin it a little on the peel. Notice the amount of cornmeal in the picture below. But just a little practice and it will pay off for you.

Weekday Menu - Awesome Pasta with Mushrooms, Peppers and Kale

I had made a few Mario Batali appetizers for Thanksgiving from his cookbook Molto Italiano. One was his topping for Crostini using sauteed kale and pancetta. I also had roasted some mushrooms, red peppers, shallots and garlic. These two dishes were left over, and I had a pasta in mind. So here's what happened:

- Marinated Eggplant Appetizer
- Cavatappi in Mushroom, Kale and Pepper Sauce

The eggplant came from the same cookbook, with the secret ingredients being mint and orange zest. These two cut through the traditional viniagrette flavors and introduced a brightness. The citrus alone would have been OK, but the pairing of both citrus and mint is what made it stand out. Reminder - do NOT overcooked eggplant when grilling, roasting or broiling. I didn't this time, and was glad for it.

On to the pasta. I started with some onion and garlic sauteed in oil. Added in the leftover mushrooms and peppers. Put about 1/2 a cup of heavy cream, which would sauce over a pound of pasta (17.5 oz package of high-end Rao's cavatappi). I might have added a little white wine before the cream.....but as it's a week later I forget.

Oh yeah, I had more pancetta on hand. I diced it and included it in the saute with the onion.

OK - this is all sideways. Cream is not added yet. As the pasta finished, I introduced the kale, which had PLENTY of red pepper flakes to spice it up. Tossed in a handful of diced tomato, then quickly on to the small amount of cream.

Combined this with the pasta and added high quality parmesan.

Results? One of the best pastas I've ever made.

Why? While the kale and roasted mushrooms and peppers would have not been an enourmous investment of time at the front end of this recipe, it would have added considerably. In fact, since I did broil some eggplant, it wouldn't have been a big deal. But the flavors of each (the mushroom and kale dishes) were able to really combine in that they were made 2 days prior. Add the convenience factor and a small amount of cream and parmesan.....well, I won't get much of an argument, even from those that didn't get to enjoy this dish.

Thanksgiving Menu 2008 - updated

OK - it's excessive. It's somewhat traditional. This particular Thanksgiving preparation was the most enjoyable, stress free and timely one ever. Possible factors:

- I've made almost EVERY recipe at least once before
- The entire menu is REALLY close to last years menu
- We only had one guest - my father in law Pete
- Even the kids (and Pete) helped - including food preparation

Here's the menu:

  • Focaccia with Parmesan and fresh herbs, Mario Batali's Molto Italiano
  • Bacon and Roasted Corn Gougeres, Gourmet November 2007
  • Kids Veggie Tray
  • Four Crostinis - Mushroom and sage; leek and mint; Red pepper, onion and thyme; kale and pancetta (see next post for how the kale was re-used!!). Also from Mario Batali's Molto Italiano
  • Pumpkin Pie, Family recipe
  • Whiskey Apple Crumble Pie, New York Times 11/14/07
The Brussels Sprouts were one of the highlights, and we made them again at Christmas.

The turkey stock was made in advance, and is an important new step in Thanksgiving preparations. The idea is that a day or two before thanksgiving, you roast turkey wings and thighs and make a stock. From the roasted parts, and incredible stock is created, which can be used for gravy, stuffing and other dishes that require stock (like the scalloped root veggies above).

As with the advent of brining turkeys which took root in the 1990's, I think that the roasted turkey stock should become a standard step for any serious cook for a Thanksgiving meal.

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