Category Archives: bread and pizza

In love with stecca

steccaMY FRIEND NANCY knew that I often baked bread using Jim Lahey’s no-knead approach, using the Dutch oven to make a crusty round or oval loaf.  She’d tried a lot of Lahey’s recipes, and one favorite was the stecca (“stick” in Italian), a small and thin baguette-like loaf that incorporates olive oil as well as the usual flour-water-salt and yeast combo and is baked on a baking sheet rather than a Dutch oven.  Nancy’s partner, Duane, is Steve’s brother, and he would gladly eat stecca every day. After Steve and I tried it at their home in California, we fell in love with it too, so Nancy copied the recipe for me.

When I got home, I made it once or twice. It was a little messy — as Nancy had warned me, the tea towel was permanently marred by impossible-to-remove oil stains–but very, very good. Still, maybe because it was a bread that should be eaten in a day or two rather than a loaf to last for days (sometimes almost a week), I forgot about it and didn’t make it again for a year or two.

That all changed recently. I came across the recipe and thought I’d try it again. It was so easy — as long as I started it the night before we wanted to eat it — and made a wonderful accompaniment to soup or salad. It was delectable on its own with a bit of butter or some cheese. I made it again and again, playing around with variations, substituting a bit of whole wheat flour, sometimes adding seeds to the top.

Now I’m making it often, but only half a recipe at a time. Not that we couldn’t eat four stecca loaves in two days (it would be very easy to eat a stecca loaf by oneself in one sitting, especially if it’s still warm from the oven) — but it’s probably better if we don’t.

Isn’t it amazing what just 1/4 of a teaspoon (or 1/8 in the half recipe) will do, given a bit of time? Maybe there’s a moral there: Give it time.

sesame stecca

STECCA

I tweaked Jim Lahey’s recipe just a little. This is the recipe for four little sticks of bread.

  • 2 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon yeast (instant or regular)
  • 1 1/2 cups cool water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt; (sesame or other seeds optional)
  • cornmeal and additional flour for dusting
  1. In a medium bowl, stir together both flours, table salt, sugar and yeast. Add the water, and using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until it comes together as a wet, sticky dough. Cover the bowl and let it sit at room temperature until it is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled, 12 to 18 hours (a few more won’t hurt).
  2. When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl. Fold the dough over itself two or three times and gently shape it into a somewhat flattened ball. (If it is too sticky, you may need to first add a little more flour, but it should still be quite a moist dough).
  3. Place a tea towel on the work surface and generously dust it with cornmeal. Place the dough on the towel, seam side down, and brush the top with some of the olive oil. Sprinkle top with 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt and a light dusting of cornmeal. Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place in a warm draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled, and when you gently poke it with your finger it holds the impression.
  4. Half an hour before the end of the second rise (approximately) preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. with a rack in the center. Lahey says to oil your 13-by-18 baking pan, but sometimes I don’t oil, and it’s been fine.
  5. Cut the dough into quarters. Gently stretch each piece more or less evenly (mine is always a little uneven, but it’s part of the charm) approximately the length of the pan. Brush with olive oil (you may not need the entire 1/4 cup) and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt. Sprinkle with sesame, poppy or other seeds if you like.
  6. Bake for 14 to 20 minutes (I find it’s done at 14 or 15 minutes), until the crust is golden brown. Cool on the pan for five minutes, then transfer the stecca to a rack to cool (or not, if you must have some now).

NOTE: The crust of the stecca is thinner than a baguette, and the combination of the oil and salt may make it soggy in just a few hours. You can reheat the loaves in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes until the crust crisp but watch carefully — the stecca is so thin that it may turn into a cracker very quickly!

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Blackberry supper

BLACKBERRY SEASON is making me a little nostalgic. Blog-nostalgic, that is (though I still think blog is a particularly ugly word), as I wrote my first post on Toby’s Kitchen Notes nearly seven years ago, toward the end of berry season, with my recipe for Blackberry Cobbler No. 8.

It seems hard to believe I’d made eight versions of blackberry cobbler in 2009, but I did, along with some other must-have fruit desserts. This year, as I write, it’s just the beginning of blackberry season, and the other day I had a couple freshly picked pints on hand. I really wanted to bake something with them — but not a dessert. Aha — it remembered Nigel Slater’s marvelous recipe: Blackberry focaccia.

blackberry foccacia slice

Blackberry focaccia has only a hint of sweetness, from sugar sprinkled atop the dough.

Half the recipe would be plenty, I figured, as there were only two of us eating it, and it doesn’t keep well for leftovers. (I wrote of this before, so the recipe is here.)

blackberryfoccin progress

The yeast dough is easy, but does need gentle handling, especially when you fold in half the berries after the first rising. The rest of the berries are strewn on top; then, it rises again and you drizzle olive oil and sprinkle demerara or sparkling sugar on top.

blackberry foccacia

Once out of the oven and cooled just a bit, you can sprinkle with confectioners sugar if you like.

We had a choice: ruin our appetites by devouring the focaccia immediately or wait a few minutes, make a green salad, and call it supper.

saladandslice BF

We chose the latter — and it wasn’t a sacrifice. Calling it supper gave it a certain sense of legitimacy, if not outright virtue.  (More nutritious than pancakes with syrup for supper, anyway.) And yes, it was delicious. I plan to repeat this combo!

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Filed under baked goods, bread and pizza, fruit, Praise for other cooks, salad, summer, Uncategorized

Breads of summer

wholewhbreadIF YOU’RE SWELTERING IN THE SUMMER HEAT,  you probably won’t relate, but here in the Northwest, we still have plenty of cool-ish, windy days and rain. I think it’s perfect weather for bread baking, which is an activity I thoroughly enjoy. And isn’t summer made for pleasurable activities?

Sunset1

Cloud watching is another of my favorite pastimes these days. Any time of the year.

Lately, inspired by my son Zak’s incredible breads, I’ve been experimenting with a hybrid (hy-bread?) method of bread making, combining the Jim Lahey no-knead method, with, yes, a little bit of kneading and shaping  using sourdough starter (1/3 cup approximately for one loaf) along with a tiny bit (1/4 teaspoon or less) of yeast. I’ve also been increasing the proportion of whole wheat/ whole grains, with varying success. This loaf I baked yesterday, about 50 percent whole wheat, rated a photo and is being enjoyed in sandwiches today and toast tomorrow.

Breadwwheat

Actually, as I write this, it isn’t quite officially summer yet. Maybe soon my cooking plans will turn to potato salads or berry jams. But it’s very likely that there will also be more good bread-baking days ahead here in the Northwest corner. . .

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A day to celebrate

St Pats lemon tart

I decorated a lemon tart with lime and lime zest for St. Patrick’s Day. That was last year.

ST. PATRICK’S DAY IS A BIG HOLIDAY IN MY FAMILY — and not because we’re Irish or even big beer drinkers.

It’s because my father, Eric Sonneman, a refugee from Nazi Germany, arrived in this country on March 17, 1939. He was 28 years old.

When his ship arrived in New York on St. Patrick’s Day, the passengers were greeted by a band playing Irish music at the pier. My father knew nothing about St. Patrick’s Day, but his uncle, a recent immigrant himself who had met my father’s ship, insisted on going to Fifth Avenue to see the fabulous parade.

“I thought this is a wonderful country, to welcome the immigrants with a band and a parade!” my father always said. (A more complete story is here.)

Now I always celebrate St. Patrick’s Day as a day to remember my dad’s wonderful introduction to America.

greenriver

In Chicago, where I grew up, they dye the Chicago River green for St. Patrick’s Day

The traditional food for the day, of course, is corned beef and cabbage, but that has never appealed to me. Something-or-other green (and a little Guinness stout) is enough for me. Last year I was fancy with the decorated lemon tart, but this year I’m lazier, and I’m just making my bright-green parsley soup (the recipe is here, though I now use my hand-blender) and some oatmeal-currant scones. It’s my own little St. Pat’s tradition. Anything green will do, though — even a green salad!

The important thing is the toast.  I’ll be toasting my dad and the country that welcomed him.

ST PATS card

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The best food gift

Tobysfeedbarnrolls

The aluminum pan makes it easy to give a generous amount of homemade cinnamon rolls. No returns necessary.

OF COURSE THE BEST FOOD GIFT is (usually) something homemade. A lot of cookies and candy are exchanged this time of year, and I’ve enjoyed some marvelous biscotti, truffles and shortbread, but in years past I’ve also received homemade applesauce, spaghetti sauce, flavored vinegar and herbal salt, among other edible delights.

This week I made a couple pans of cinnamon rolls for my neighbors, and another for a special breakfast at home. They have some wheat and spelt flour along with all-purpose flour, no frosting and very little fat — so while I wouldn’t say they were “healthy,” they are not too destructive. And they have plenty of cinnamon and raisins, with a few walnuts on the top. My basic recipe is here.

Cinnamon rolls are more flexible than you might think. You could add other spices (cardamom), leave out the raisins or the nuts or add in some different things (dried cranberries and pistachios?) You can make the dough and shape the rolls the night before you want to bake them, and they will rise in the refrigerator. Once baked, they can be frozen or reheated.

CinnRolls

Toby’s Feed Barn (what a great name) is a terrific general store in Point Reyes Station, California

CINNAMON ROLLS will make your house smell wonderful.  And, best of all — if your neighbors are anything like mine — are the big smiles you’ll get when you appear at your neighbor’s door with a pan of the rolls, still warm from the oven.

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Bread therapy

When I wrote the last post, more than three weeks ago, I was looking forward to getting my cast off and getting back to work in the kitchen. But  those first days out of the cast were discouraging.  My hand was so stiff and weak it was basically useless.

Fortunately, I soon met with an occupational therapist who showed me how I could slowly but surely train my hand to work again. One of the things he had me do was to knead and grasp and pull a wad of therapy putty.

kneading2I brought some putty home to work with, but I also thought that bread dough might be a nice alternative material. So I have been kneading dough ever since, and the results have been quite tasty.  Here’s some of the baked goods I’ve been making the last few weeks.

cinnamonrolls

Cinnamon rolls

oatmealbreadhalf

Oatmeal bread

applebluecheeseLast weekend I made a kind of pizza with a cornmeal-y crust, topped with roasted apples, red onions and blue cheese. It was inspired by Melissa Clark’s apple tart in The New York Times (but I substituted red onion for the shallot and didn’t use all that oil in the dough). Very nice for dinner or hors d’oeuvres.

lavashAnd today I made lavash crackers, with a recipe that came originally from Yvette van Boven’s Home Made cookbook. I kneaded the dough for a good 8 minutes (my right hand helped just a little) and rolled it out into sheets in my pasta maker. My goodness — what nice crisp crackers!

Usually, I love to knead bread dough and find it relaxing, almost meditative.

But it hasn’t been like that at all lately.  I make my weak left hand do the work and it hurts. But it is therapeutic. And the results are doubly appreciated.

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Tea and toast

cast from naplesI returned from my trip to Italy (with dear friend Cathy Mihalik) with a new ‘Frutta di Italia’ apron — and a very heavy full-arm plaster cast!

amalfi trailHiking down a steep and beautiful trail (Sentiero Pennino, part mule track, from the wonderful agriturismo in the hills, Serafina, to the town of Bomerano), I slipped on some loose gravel by la grotta di Santa Barbara.

I stuck out my left hand to cushion the fall and — BAM! — broken wrist and a displaced radius bone. (In orthopedic jargon, this very common route to a wrist fracture is nicknamed FOOSH for Fall On Out Stretched Hand).

boneThe next day, in a hospital outside Naples, the orthopedic doctor pulled the bone into place without anesthetic (ouch) and gave me a plaster cast from above the elbow to below the first joints of my fingers.

Still, we continued the trip –fortunately for me, Cathy is a registered nurse–and had a great time. After I got the cast we went to eat cheap and delicious pizza at Sorbillo, the genuine article. Here we are in amazing Napoli the day after the hospital/cast experience:

galleria, napoli

Galleria, Naples

About that cast: “Positively medieval,” my friend Nia called it. The orthopedic nurse in the U.S. updated the description a little, but said she hadn’t seen the like since the 1970s. She cut off the cast, plaster dust flying, and discarded it with a look of disgust. “Some things are better left behind,” she said. The only thing I miss about the cast is the charming picture Cathy drew of a shepherdess and lamb.

castpic

The worst part? When  I met with the orthopedic physician at home two-and-a-half weeks after the fall — and learned that the bone had not healed at all. In fact, it looked worse than the day I fell!

I was scheduled for surgery subito (immediately).

*

Well, I plan to write a post about the frustrations, challenges and amusements of one-handed cooking soon.

But today I am just lazing about, recuperating from yesterday’s surgery and thinking about what a delicious duo Steve made for me when we came home from our 9-to-5 day at the hospital.

I’d had nothing to eat or drink all day and I was a little weak and woozy.

It was very simple but Steve made it perfectly: tea. just how I like it (PG Tips with milk) and buttered toast (multi-grain from our excellent local bakery, Breadfarm).

toastteaMaybe it was because of the trauma or the hunger or the appreciation of Steve’s kindness, or all those things rolled into one.

All I know is, that tea and toast was so delicious it seemed like the best thing I had ever eaten.  And perhaps it was.

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Start with the bread

sourdoughstarter

My son (who’s an incredible home baker) gave me some sourdough starter a couple months ago and told me I should give sourdough another try. I had failed to maintain a sourdough a couple years ago, and had given up on it — but this was a gift from Zak, so how could I refuse?

Well, Zak’s starter is so lively and tolerant that it has me hooked. It survived the long car trip from California and a few weeks of neglect when I was too busy to bake bread. As long as it’s fed (water and flour) from time to time, it’s in bubbly good spirits. And that wonderful starter has been inspiring me to make bread quite a bit lately — which has warmed up our apartment nicely during this cold spring.

breaddutchoven

I’ve mostly been using the Dutch oven method, in which the combination of a wet dough and a very hot oven-like pan makes for a crusty European-style bread. My current favorite is a hearty bread similar to the one I discussed in this post (which was also in praise of German bread) but using 1/4 to 1/2 cup of sourdough starter in place of the yeast, and adjusting a bit for the additional liquid of the starter. I bake it (in a Dutch oven preheated in a 450-degree oven) for 25 minutes with the lid on, and 15 minutes with the lid off.

oatsandseeds

The dough I’ve been using has approximately 1 cup bread flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup rye and 1/2 cup oatmeal, some sunflower, flax, sesame and poppy seeds and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt — plus scant half cup of starter and about 1 1/2 cups of water. I say approximately, because I’ve found this recipe (like the starter) is quite forgiving of my slapdash methods.

breadwhgrain

Once I have a nice loaf of bread, a lot of problems are resolved around the house. Hungry? Have a slice of bread or toast. It’s always a good place to start.

breadavocado

If you’re lucky, there might be an avocado or something else good to put on it!

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The need to knead

oatmeal bread

Pun aside: I’ve been making that no-knead bread, and it is terrific, but there are times I just miss that hands-on tactile relationship with bread dough. And yesterday was so cold and dreary, I didn’t want to go outside — just wanted to stay home and turn up the thermostat…. or turn on the oven!

Oatmeal bread, a recipe I’ve had for years and years, was just the ticket. It called for two eggs, but I only had one. It called for light molasses; mine was pretty dark. The original recipe also called for milk powder, but I never have that. No matter.

I used a mixture of wheat flour and bread flour, started around noon and by late afternoon I had two beautiful loaves of bread, just ready to be served with tea or soup. This is the kind of bread that is perfect for a sandwich or toast with butter….(but then, isn’t every kind of good bread perfect for that?)

royalslice

With a little butter (and some marmalade) this was indeed a royal slice of bread, reminding me of A. A. Milne’s whimsical poem, The King’s Breakfast, which my dad used to often recite at our breakfast table:

     The King asked
     The Queen, and
     The Queen asked
     The Dairymaid:
     “Could we have some butter for
     The Royal slice of bread?”
     The Dairymaid

     Said, “Certainly,
     I’ll go and tell
     The cow
     Now
     Before she goes to bed.”
Oatmeal bread
1 tablespoon yeast
 1 1/4 cups boiling water
1 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup oil
1/2 cup light molasses
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
2 large eggs, beaten
flour: wheat, white or a mixture
  1. Dissolve the tablespoon of yeast in 1/2 cup of lukewarm water till bubbly.
  2. Meanwhile put the oats, molasses, oil and salt in a big bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Cool to lukewarm
  3. Stir in 2 cups of flour, add the 2 beaten eggs and the yeast mixture.
  4. Beat well
  5. Stir in enough flour to make a soft, but not sticky, dough. Turn on a floured surface, cover, and let rest for 10 minutes. Then knead until smooth.
  6. Let rise in a warm place until double — about 1 1/2 hours. Punch down.
  7. Coat 2 bread pans with oil and sprinkle a couple tablespoons of oats in each.
  8. Shape the dough into 2 loaves and let rise for 30 to 45 minutes
  9. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and brush the tops of the loaves with a mixture of 1 egg white and 1 tablespoon of water; sprinkle
  10. more oats on the top.
  11. Bake for about 40 minutes or until done. Check after 30 minutes and cover the tops with foil if they are getting too brown.
  12. See if you can let it cool a little before slicing!

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Lemon pizza!!

As soon as I read about this “pizza with a twist,” I knew I had to try it. Lemons on pizza– what a natural for me, two of my favorite foods combined.  But would it really be as good as it looked?

This recipe for “Pizza Sorrentina” (created by a fourth-generation pizzaiola in Naples for her mother Rosaria, who loved lemons) in the Wall Street Journal, gives directions for a homestyle version of the Naples-style crust, using 00 (doppio zero) flour,  a very finely ground flour producing a tender and puffy crust. You bake it in an oven set to 550 degrees (pizza in Naples is baked in wood-fired ovens that reach 950 degrees).

I don’t usually use the 00 flour for pizza, but I happened to have some so I did something that I very rarely do and followed the recipe. I also never buy smoked mozzarella, but this time I did that too. And I soaked thin lemon slices in water for 15 minutes, just like the recipe said.

I have to say, this pizza was just terrific! Soaking the lemon slices meant that the peel was chewable, not hardened, and the sharp clean flavor of the lemons contrasted beautifully with the smoked cheese.

One of the three 8-inch pizzas, along with the salad, was a fine dinner for the two of us. But one very hungry person could probably eat the whole pizza.

Will I make it again? Sure, but I probably won’t follow the recipe to the letter next time. My regular pizza dough is a little different than this recipe, but I like it just as well.  And I might use a different cheese, or another herb besides basil (though the basil is very good). However, I’ll definitely keep the lemons and I’ll definitely soak the lemon slices!

Want to read more about pizza? My press, Reaktion, has Pizza: A Global History as part of its Edible Series. Did you know that pizza wasn’t really an “Italian” food outside of Naples until well after World War II?

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