The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread...Unsliced Bread!

For those of you still hanging on and coming around every once and a while to see what I’ve been up to, thank you. I’m glad you’re still here, and I appreciate you. Hugs and kisses all around! I know I haven’t been leaving many comments on your blogs lately (though I have checked in on many of you from time to time) and I haven’t done much on this blog the last month or two aside from frantically posting my Heart of the Matter entries (at the last possible moment), and I’m even more sad to report that I haven’t done much of anything the last month or two aside from working. Not even go to the beach – a sad feat when it is a mere mile (or less) from your doorstep. The crazy hours and non-stop sitting in front of my computer to prepare lectures and assignments for my students left me without the least bit of desire to sit in front of my computer a bit more and come up with something interesting to say.

That isn’t to say that I haven’t been in the kitchen though. One does have to eat, after all. Granted, the last week of classes - now thankfully a week past – LB was back to being my house-husband as we had our very first house guests (yay!) and I had three tests to write, about 50 assignments to grade and no time to do anything else. Taking a break from blogging for a month gave me the time to settle into my teaching, but also gave me the time to try new recipes of yours I’ve spied. While I love blogging, spending an entire month just reading and not worrying about coming up with a new recipe to try or modify every few days in order to have something I want to blog about was actually quite nice.

I’ve made Tanna’s Panzanella, Katie's Beetroot and Chevre Salad, Ann's Strawberry Shortcake with Buttermilk Biscuits and many of my own old standbys. All of them were delicious – tailored to include what was on hand or available here for a reasonable price. But while checking in on my namesake (well, almost my namesake) Michele at Oswego Tea, I came across this Soda Bread – a recipe from Alice Water’s latest cookbook, The Art of Simple Food - and the cutest heading by Michele: "I baked it myself." Now, as Tanna will tell you, I’ve been enviously reading about her exploits in bread baking, as well as the rest of the BBBs (Bread Baking Babes) for quite some time now, yearning to try baking bread from scratch. There have been so many beautiful breads I’ve wanted to make, recipes I’ve bookmarked and gorgeous photos I’ve drooled over, each one calling out to me that THAT would be my first bread...but it was Alice’s recipe and Michele’s coaxing that got me in the kitchen one day when we were out of bread.

I think I’ve mentioned that bread is a bit expensive here (like everything else) and while I’ve gotten used to paying $4 for a loaf of bread (hey, I paid $3.94 in Eugene anyway), it would sure be nice not to have to buy bread and be able to put that $4 a week into say, a bar of nice dark chocolate to snack on or some mango curd, or something. And while this isn’t a yeast bread, and thus requires no rising, I think it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship and I hope to be baking bread more often (next up: yeast, baby!).

This bread is dense and has a chewy, crunchy crust. It’s got a great crumb and a lovely rustic look and heft to it that makes you take a step back and say – holy crap! I made that! And it wasn’t even that hard! It’s missing that yeasty smell and goodness that only breads that require a rise can have, but it makes great buttered toast for dipping into soft boiled eggs, hunks of it make perfect sops for soups and sauces, and it’s absolutely perfect for LB and my favorite summer breakfast of tomatoes and cream cheese on toast. But of course it’s good, it’s Alice Water’s recipe.

Like Michele, there’s no way I’m posting the recipe for this, as Alice Water’s is one of my heroes and you don’t mess with a woman (er, goddess) like that. But you can follow the same link that Michele gave if you’d like to find it and try it yourself: Alice Water’s Soda Bread.

I followed the recipe exactly – except I used half whole wheat pastry flour (I didn’t have bread flour, but that might have yielded even better results) and half all-purpose flour. While this works well, I wouldn’t use all whole wheat flour because it’s already such a dense bread. Also, be sure to add a tsp. or tbsp. of corn meal on your buttered baking sheet (or use parchment paper - something oddly difficult to find here) to prevent it from sticking - because it will stick, like cement, if you don’t.

While the “thumping” and the hollow sound you’re supposed to get eludes me, I’ve found if I give it about 35 minutes instead of 30 at 400F, until the crust is a deep, darkened brown – but not too brown – and when you can thump the top crust instead of the bottom (which is difficult to do with really hot bread!) and it truly feels like a hardened “crust,” then the inside will be thoroughly cooked. Don’t forget to cut the cross into it either, we made that mistake too – and while it still seems to rise properly, it didn’t finish cooking in the middle of the bread, leaving it doughy and uncooked and well, just not as nice as it could be. Until next time then, my friends - I'll see you in the kitchen.

10 comments from you:

Ann said...

Glad to see you back and posting! BTW: your link to my shortbread is borked. :-)

cookiecrumb said...

Well done.
I totally understand your fear of yeast breads, though I've Just Discovered a new technique that has me psyched. Breakthrough, maybe, even.
Little anecdote: I lived in Hawaii in the 70s, in Mililani Town. Before you were born. I seriously missed serious bread, and MADE MY OWN baguettes from Julia Child's book. It was quite good, actually, but I had to remove the maggots from the dough before I baked it. (Should've just et them.)
Are you teaching at U of H?

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Hooray for bread!! It's so fun to say I baked it myself!!

In answer to your question re the grill pan: Michelle, mine is a Le Creuset as well. It took a little seasoning. My biggest problem was trying to make it look like new when I clean it. I enjoy nice things and like to keep them new. BUT in this case you don't want to clean it too much. I use a plastic brush, no soap and just try to remove the loosest stuff.
I oil the pan after it is hot. I didn't touch the tuna until I thought it was ready to turn. I was really happy with these grill marks.
Hope that helps.

Ilva said...

Michelle, I can confirm that those baguettes that cc is talking about are great! Do them, yeast is just a chemical substance like the rest of us so go for it, think about it as moulding a student or something!

Michelle said...

Ann, Damn. I'll fix that as soon as I can figure how to right-click on my computer without a mouse :) Thanks!

Cookie, what's your breakthrough? I'm going to have to go and scour through your blog... I haven't been over to Mililani yet, but so far I am living off of Ba-Le Bakery bread (I'm going to post about that soon too). If there ends up being maggots in my bread I might just never make bread again...you are a far braver soul than myself, and I am in awe. I was teaching at HPU, but I now work for UH as a postdoc.

Tanna, It IS!! Yay! I was so excited to tell you! Thanks for the grill pan tips. We don't try to get it "clean" per se, as our cast iron skillet has gotten a beautiful patina or whatever you call it, no soap, but we scrub with a plastic sponge. Do you let it sit and cool before you clean it or clean it when it's hot? We just have a very uneven black splotches all over the whole thing... thanks dear!

Ilva, Thanks!! I'm definitely determined to try...it's actually not the yeast that scare me - it's the kneading! I either knead too much and it turns out like a brick or it doesn't rise properly or it comes out like a brick...yeah, bricks are my biggest fear. I'll try thinking of it as my students - I like that! Moulding and shaping them into little loaves of happiness ;)

cookiecrumb said...

No Knead Bread!!! Big, big breakthrough.
I've read about two kinds. One sits out in a bowl overnight, and the other (my discovery) sits in the fridge for as long as two weeks before you bake it. I'll write about it soon.

Michelle said...

Sweet! I'll be keeping my eye out for it. I remember now seeing that around various blogs a while ago too... hmmm... can't wait to see what you think!

Sally Parrott Ashbrook said...

This bread sounds heavenly. :D

Michelle said...

Thanks, Sally! It was!

Ann, I fixed the link!

Sophie said...

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