There is an Avocado in my Cake!

Even before we can blink an eye, the festive season is upon us. One of my school buddies decided to play Secret Santa. One evening, my daughter heard the doorbell ring and when she opened the door, she saw a lovely recycled bag filled with big, dark, fat dragon eggs. Three of them, like in The Game of Thrones. Fans of this television show will know exactly what I mean. On closer examination, they actually turned out to be super ripe avocados. These were no way going to hatch into those wonderous fire-breathing creatures.  I had to figure out a quick way of using them up. Now, one of them could be turned into Guacamole. I debated on adding another to a salad but they were far too ripe. I could do a milkshake or maybe an ice cream. On second thoughts, Ice cream was out of the question for my freezer had absolutely no space to accommodate anything more. A glass of milkshake/smoothie later there was still a lot of the pale greenish-yellow fruit pulp left.

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I simply could not put it away saying I would deal with it later. Later would be too late. The leftover avocado had to be used up at once. So there was born an avocado chocolate cake, in honour of another friend who simply loves avocado in any form. While I sat back and enjoyed the cake, she drooled from far, far away, with promises made that there will be a repeat when she visited.

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I knew that the avocado had a lot of fat, but I love the flavour of butter. So I knew I was going to add a touch of butter. I was going to make it without eggs. So if you are looking at a vegan cake, just substitute the melted butter with oil. It should work just as well. Make sure you puree the fruit pulp well. You don’t really want lumps in your delicious cake. I did not really have to struggle much. Just a few well-aimed smash with the back of the spoon, I had a super smooth puree.

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This cake uses both chocolate and cocoa. Make sure you use the best possible chocolate and cocoa you have. The better the quality, the better the flavour and colour of the end product. The process itself is really quite simple. There is no beating, no whipping; you simply melt, cool and mix. Really, it is as simple as that!

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I did use some cinnamon once, hoping to make a lovely chocolate cake with a Mexican touch, but my daughter put an end to it right there. It smelt heavenly as it baked and even more so as it cooled. But one taste of the cake, she refused to eat another piece. Though I did not quite mind the flavour at all, treat this as an adequate warning. This combination is an acquired taste. If you wish to go ahead with the experiment just add a couple of teaspoons of powdered cinnamon to the flour.

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The recipe makes two large 8-inch cake layers. You could choose to put it together, like I did, with some avocado frosting. The frosting is simple and comes together very quickly. I added the icing sugar and cocoa alternately till I was happy with the consistency and flavour. Don’t expect to be able to pipe rosettes with this. It will never really be thick enough. But then this is a Moorish cake. So just slather on the frosting and dig in.

INGREDIENTS

170 Grams of good Dark Chocolate

4 Tbs Cocoa powder (I used Valrhona)

2 1/2 cups All-purpose flour

1/2 cup Almond flour (adds a nice texture)

1/2 tsp Salt

2 tsp Baking Powder

2 tsp Baking soda

1/4 cup Melted butter

2 cups water

2 Tbs Vinegar

1 tsp Almond extract

1 tsp Vanilla extract

1 large Avocado pitted and mashed well (A large avocado will roughly weigh about 200 to 225 grams)

1 cup Granulated sugar (Please adjust the sugar based on the sweetness of your chocolate)

1 cup Brown sugar

For the Frosting

Half an avocado mashed

1 to 2 cups of icing sugar

1/4 to 1/2 cup cocoa

1 tsp vanilla extract

Salt to taste

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METHOD

  1. Combine the chocolate, cocoa and 3 Tbs of water (from the 2 cups) and melt over heat. Or you can simply zap it in the microwave in short bursts until everything is melted and combined.
  2. Add melted butter and allow to cool.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180C and spray and line two 8 inch pans.
  4. Sieve together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and whisk in the almond flour.
  5. Mix the water, vinegar, and the extracts.
  6. Add the chocolate mixture and combine
  7. Finally, fold in the flour mixture
  8. Pour into the pans and bake at 180C for about 45 minutes or until done
  9. Cool in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool
  10. The cake will be a very moist one.
  11. When completely cool, sandwich the two cakes with some of the frostings and top the cake with the remaining frosting.

For the frosting

  1. Combine the fruit puree with icing sugar, salt, vanilla extract and cocoa
  2. Whip well and use as required.
  3. The amount of sugar and cocoa will depend on individual taste. More sugar will yield a sweeter frosting and more of the cocoa will result in a more chocolatey frosting. So choose your poison with care.

The cake remains moist and good for at least 4 to 5 days. Enjoy!

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Nuts About You

It has been a while. I may not have been updating the blog as often as I should have been, but I have had so much fun the last few months. Travelled a bit, tasted a lot of new food, met old friends, made new friends. . . Came back home to a flurry of activities. Classes to teach, knowledge to share, experiments to try, challenges to overcome, birthday cakes to be baked.

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While I did all this, there was always a challenge as to what I wanted to post here. Some of the recipes were too complicated and some of them were still in the process of being perfected. But when I baked this cake for my daughter’s birthday, I knew I had a winner and this I had to share with everyone.

It was the last of those teen years. So it had to be special. I had just one brief–the cake had to have nuts. Armed with this instruction I went about my task. I had all kinds of nuts in my pantry (Not including the bigger nuts living in the house) I had peanuts, pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts, cashew nuts and macadamia nuts. I knew I wanted to incorporate as many of these as possible, for each carried with it, its own special flavour. So I narrowed it down and settled on almond, pistachio, hazelnut, and pecans.

Next, I needed to figure out a way to incorporate this into the cake. The simplest way was to grind them up and use them as flour. Not only will the process release the oils and flavours but the nut flour would provide a lovely crumbly texture to the cake. The pistachio would be a pale green, the almonds a beautiful cream and to the hazelnuts, I would add some cocoa (for not only would it enhance the flavour but add to the colour contrast that I was looking for).

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Such a heavy cake would require a frosting which was light. Debating between whipped cream and Italian meringue buttercream, I decided to go the whole hog and make the buttercream. The pecans would be transformed into a salted caramel praline and would go between the layers and on the sides. None could complain about the paucity of nuts in this cake. For the recipe, I had in mind something Debbie had made in her Smitten Kitchen. Generously adapting her rustic recipe, I  created this delicious layered cake which screams that I am nuts about you.

So I layered the cake, starting with an almond layer at the bottom, followed by the hazelnut-chocolate and finally the pistachio. Each layer sandwiched with silky delicate Buttercream infused with vanilla bean with a scattering of the pecan praline for the crunch. I made sure I took the caramel to a really dark point to give that lovely depth of flavour. And don’t forget the salt–my new favourite in all things sweet.

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The recipe below is just for the cake. I will be giving you an almond version of the cake. Feel free to substitute with a nut of your choice. I preferred to add no color or flavour to the cake batter, minus a generous dose of vanilla. For the hazelnut layer, I removed a couple of tablespoons of regular flour and added good cocoa. I am not going into the makings of the Buttercream, which by the way, is not totally necessary to enjoy this cake. This was a birthday cake, and what is a birthday cake without filling and frosting? I made half the portion baked this cake in an 8-inch pan. So basically for the birthday cake, I made one and a half portions. I wanted a tallish cake but not super tall. Please be wary, if you decide to torte the cake, chill it very well before you do so. The cake, because of the nut flour needs to be handled delicately.

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INGREDIENTS

140 grams roasted almonds (or any nut of your choice)

200 grams granulated sugar

1/2 tsp salt

145 grams butter

3 large eggs

1/4 cup milk

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp baking powder

115 grams all-purpose flour

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METHOD

  1. Preheat oven to 170C and prepare your pans. I prefer to line the pans because this cake can be quite delicate when you try to unmould them.
  2. Grind the nuts, sugar, and salt together in a grinder or blender till the nuts are as fine as they can be without turning it into a paste.
  3. Beat the butter until soft and fluffy.
  4. Add the nut mixture little by little. Initially, it will look like sludge but continue to beat until light and creamy.
  5. Add eggs one at a time and continue to beat
  6. Add milk, vanilla and baking powder. Beat well to combine. (Don’t worry about beating well you have not yet added the flour)
  7. Now fold in flour
  8. Pour into prepared tin and bake for about 30 to 40 minutes until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
  9. Cool the cake well in in the pan before turning over.

I must say that almost everyone who tasted the cake loved it! Will I be making it again? Oh yes, I will. I cannot wait to try different versions and combinations of this nutty cake.

Kladdkaka and Other Excuses

As I was just looking at the blog, I realised that I have neglected to update it for the longest time. If anybody is interested, I have a long list of excuses. We had Deepawali, the festival of lights and I was busy making chocolates. Then came Vardha, the storm close on it’s heels. I spent the next couple of weeks clearing up the damage, rebuilding broken structures and fixing damaged cars. Then came the annual bake sale, which I decided to be a part of, more as a challenge to test my organising ability (and I must say, I was super happy with the way things turned out.)

Like this list is not enough, something wonderful happened a few weeks back. Josep Pascual was here and I managed to spend 4 days attending a workshop, watching the Master at work, baking alongside him and simply hoping that I would absorb some of his knowledge by osmosis. You don’t know who he is? I say, go google him before you proceed reading this post. Done? Now back to earth. Yes, I have been baking up a storm, bread, some cakes and tarts, and cookies. I faithfully recorded all this activity on my camera, transferred them to my laptop and deleted them on my SD card. When I sat down to write my post, I could not find a single photograph. They simply disappeared into cyberspace.

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So I am back with something I baked recently. A super simple chocolate cake decadent as it is tasty. It has been super hot the past few weeks, making it impossible to really bake much. My daughter who is on vacation refused to accept that heat can really be an excuse (I am yet to tell her all the other excuses that my imagination can conjure up). We chanced upon a photograph on Instagram, a dark chocolate cake with just a bit of oozy, gooey center to tantalize the sense. A little look into and we discovered it was called Kladdkaka, a Swedish chocolate cake which was a staple in most bakeries in that country. “I want that” my daughter declared. Secretly so did I. Further, I was running out of excuses. So it was back to the whisks and ladles.

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I was super happy that I did because what I got a cake which did not rise much (that’s ok) but a flavor so rich and a texture so awesome, that we both declared that it was well worth the effort ( which is not much, by the way). A delicious cross between a lava cake and brownie, you get a molten center and crusty edge. Now tell me who does not love that! Unlike most brownies, this recipe does not use chocolate, but just good cocoa. Make sure you use the best you can. It really does make a difference. Some experts say that the crust needs to crack like a brownie. Mine never did. Did it bother me? of course not. We just enjoyed it warm from the oven with a dusting of cocoa.

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Make sure that you do not over bake it if you want the soft center. It will be a flat cake. If you decide to use a smaller pan, the baking times could differ. You could, however, bake little individual portions and serve them with a scoop of your favorite ice cream. I used my supply of Valhrona cocoa to get that lovely dark colour. Your cake colour could differ based on the cocoa you use.

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INGREDIENTS

100 gms Unsalted Butter

200 gms Sugar

150 gms All Purpose flour

2 eggs

1 tsp Vanilla extract

3 Tbs cocoa (I used 3 1/2 and removed 1/2 tbs of flour)

1/4 to 1/2 tsp Salt

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METHOD

  1. Grease and line an 8inch springform pan and preheat oven to 180 C
  2. Melt butter and allow to cool
  3. Whisk sugar and eggs until thick to a ribbon stage. Add vanilla
  4. Sieve cocoa, flour, and salt and fold into the egg and sugar mixture
  5. Add melted butter and mix till the mixture is smooth and the butter is incorporated
  6. Pour into the lined pan and bake for about 20 minutes. The center still needs to be soft and feel almost unset.
  7. Remove from the oven and cool a bit before unmoulding.
  8. Dust cocoa over the surface and slice and serve warm.

A Panettone Christmas

I have many excuses. It was Diwali and I was busy. I had some workshops and did not have the time. Weddings and birthdays came and went. And, oh yes, the currency was demonetised. Does that sound reasons enough for not bothering about the blog? I can see a lot of disapproving heads shaking. Bear with me, please. It is not that I have not been baking. In fact, some of them have been photographed diligently with absolute conviction that they were going to make it to the blog. But alas, all the best-laid plans of mice and men. . .

What better way to make a new beginning than to get into the whole Christmas spirit of things. Every year, I try to find something new, or at least new to me (oh well, or something I have not baked in a really long time) to add to my list of Christmas bakes. Last year it was the Dundee cake, the year before it was the cute little stained-glass cookies which were trending everywhere. This time around, I thought I would go with a bread, an Italian bread, a bread much-abused in the supermarkets. I am talking about the panettone. A tall, crusty, muffin top bread with a delicate crumb, filled with delicious brandy soaked fruits and citron. It has enough of butter, eggs and sugar to actually be called a cake. But since it has firmly been categorized as bread, we can safely indulge in it for breakfast and tea without the nagging guilt.

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There are so many recipes floating around–with sourdough, with yeast, by creating a sponge, by making 3 doughs. . . I decided to go with the simplest of them all. Start off easy and slowly move up the intimidation ladder. Sullivan Street Bakery had a lovely recipe ( at least the photographs looked really good) After all, Jim Lahey had simplified bread baking for me with his ‘no knead bread’. So how difficult could his Panettone be? I was already dreaming of alcohol soaked fruit with the lingering taste of orange peel. I shook my head to clear it. “Stop dreaming” I admonished myself, “And start baking!”

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The fruits were soaked. I used a mix of dark and golden raisins. I suppose you could use any fruit of your choice. Better still, dip into the stock which you have soaked for your Christmas cake. I used some real vanilla which one of my wonderful friends had gifted me in return for some baked goodies. A good mix of fresh lime and orange zest and candied orange peel went in as well. I have seen people add chocolate chips, but I wanted to stay as close to the original as possible. The trick to getting a tall loaf is good gluten development and of course, the right pan. I used my stand mixer with the paddle attachment to mix the dough. For those of you who want to use your muscle power, go ahead. Be prepared for a good workout!

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Usually, the panettone is baked in special moulds where the bread can rise above creating a muffin or souffle-like effect. The disposable moulds are pierced through at the bottom so that you can hang the bread upside down as it cools (almost like your angel food cakes). This is done so that the bread does not collapse under its own weight. I had no such pan. So I just used a cake tin with a removable bottom and created a parchment collar.

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Naturally, I could not pierce my pan, nor did I have a mechanical device that professional Europen bakers seem to have. So A little bit of reading pointed me the way. I folded a whole bunch of towels and rested the bread on its side. My bread did not collapse, so I guess it works!

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So here is a fun addition to any Christmas table. It’s not Christmas? Don’t tell you are actually willing to wait more than a month to make this?

INGREDIENTS

1 cup raisins or any other dried fruit of your choice.
2 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons hot water
3¾ cups all-purpose flour
⅔ cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
½ teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest and orange zest
½ vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise or good vanilla extract (no essence please)
3 eggs, at room temperature
⅔ cup tepid water
1 tablespoon honey
10½ tablespoons unsalted butter, well softened
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted (watch the recipe to see when this is used)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, chilled ( you will need this just before the bread is baked)
⅔ cup candied orange peel

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METHOD

1. In a small bottle, combine the raisins with the brandy and 2 tablespoons of hot water. Allow the fruits to soak up all the deliciousness. Give it a shake now and then to ensure that no bit of fruit feels left out. Ideally, let it get drunk overnight.

2. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, yeast, salt, lemon and orange zest and vanilla bean on low speed until combined. (If you are not using a stand mixer use a bowl and a wooden spoon). In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, water and honey. With the mixer on low speed, pour this mixture into the flour mixture. Increase the speed and mix until all of the ingredients are combined.

3. Now add the softened butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, making sure it is well incorporated before adding more. Increase the speed again and beat until the dough is smooth and elastic about 8 minutes.

3. Drain the raisins if there is any liquid, I had none. (Add it to the tepid water initially to make the correct measure. I would hate to throw it down the drain) and stir together with the candied peel and 1 tablespoon of melted butter. Stir this mixture into the dough with a wooden spoon.

4. Place the dough in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until it has nearly tripled in volume. This could take 5 hours or 15 hours depending on how cold your kitchen is. Mine was warm so I placed it in the refrigerator. Big mistake. The dough became hard as a rock and then I had to wait till it tripled at room temperature.

5. Sprinkle the dough lightly with flour and scrape out onto a lightly floured surface. It will be sticky. Fold the edges of the dough in towards the center to form a loose ball. Place this seam-side down, into the panettone mold. Cover and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until the dough is well risen.

6. Preheat oven to 185 C.

7. Place the dough-filled panettone mold on a baking sheet. Use a very sharp serrated knife or a razor blade to score an “X” across the entire surface of the dough. This is the Christmas cross. Place the 1 tablespoon chilled butter in the center of the X and bake until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out slightly moist but not wet, 60 to 75 minutes. The crust of the panettone will be very dark. If you find that it is getting too dark you could cover with a foil.

8. Remove from the oven. Have ready a few kitchen towels twisted into a ring. Place the pan on its side resting against the towels. Let it cool completely. Remove the parchment and cut into slices and serve. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap if you want to store it. It does tend to dry out. If it does, you have a perfect excuse to make french toast or some totally yummy bread pudding.

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The crumb, in my opinion, could have been softer. Maybe I baked it a little too long or maybe the cold refrigerator did not agree with the dough. In any case, I heard no complaints from anybody. Next time I will try the 3 dough method. In the meantime, I am still trying to wipe that happy smile off my face. By the way, it is supposed to be bad luck to enjoy the top crust alone. Remember that as you try to sneak a piece!

Legally​ Blondie

I have been making too many brownies of late. The deep dark fudgy ones, ones with nuts, brownies swirled with peanut butter or dulce de leche, brownies with a coffee kick or the cool lingering feeling with creme de menthe. Everytime I suggested a blondie my daughter would baulk. Then came a dinner party where I was requested to provide the sweet ending to the meal. In my mind, there was a lingering blondie hope. Hesitatingly, I asked the host for any requests they may have and when they seemed adequately confused, I swooped in with my blondie suggestion. “You can have it with a scoop of ice cream” I suggested “or a drizzle of chocolate or a fruit sauce. You can save up the extras and have them for tea tomorrow.” “Go ahead,” they said ” but could you add something chocolate to it please?”

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I have always loved Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for blondies. They are like fat satisfying cookies. Maybe a tad too sweet ( you can always cut down on the sugar if you please) but then, the request was for something sweet. I stuck my tongue out at my daughter for refusing my earlier tempting offers of blondie heaven and went on to brown my butter. I prefer to brown the butter for these bar cookies simply because they add such a lovely mellow flavour when combined with brown sugar. Think about a soft , chewy cookie, which in your mouth bursts into the flavours of comfort and happiness.

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It is pretty easy to put together. You just need to basically combine all the ingredients and pop it into the oven. But please do use brown sugar. If you don’t have some ready at home, take the trouble to buy some. This blondie does not quite taste the same without it. White sugar does not quite cut it. It needs the rich molassey goodness and the moisture to really make this work. To the mix, I added some dark chocolate (the good kind please) some white (they wanted chocolate remember, and sweet) And I could not quite help myself and added some cranberries and some pecans. I had to cut down the overload of sweetness and I needed that crunch.

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You can, however, add whatever takes your fancy at that moment. I have added orange zest, a little cinnamon, a hint of espresso or my favourite alcohol of the moment. It all works wonderfully well. I have double the recipe or halved it ( I still used the 1 egg for the halved recipe) without any problems. I have always wanted to make it completely Indian by adding a pinch of cardamom and some cashew nuts but never got around to it.

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Allow the blondies to cool completely before you decide to cut into them. Of course, you could bake it like a giant cookie, and serve it with a scoop of ice cream while it is still warm. That is entirely up to you.

INGREDIENTS

8 tablespoons or 113 gms butter, melted (I used brown butter. Go past melting the butter till it starts bubbling and the residue turns a pale shade of brown)
3/4 to 1 cup light brown sugar (the dark one will almost make it look like an insipid brownie)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

(up to 1 cup of any additional ingredients. I used a mix of dark and white chocolate, cranberries and chopped pecans)

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METHOD

  1. Butter an 8×8 pan. A bigger pan will give you a flatter blondie.
  2. Mix the brown butter with brown sugar. You will need to beat it until smooth. Don’t worry if there are tiny granules of undissolved sugar.
  3. Beat in egg and then vanilla. Beat well until fully incorporated.
  4. Add salt, stir in flour. Mix in any additions that you may have. I dusted my berries in a little bit of flour.
  5. Pour into prepared pan. Bake at 175 c for about 20-25 minutes, or until set in the middle. I like them slightly on the underbaked side so the blondie is all gooey and chewy. if you like it a little firmer, go ahead and bake a little longer. Be careful not to over bake because it can turn the blondie dry and quite unpalatable. Cool on a rack before cutting them.

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The blondies, by the way, disappeared even before dinner.

 

And Another Focaccia

Everytime I have people over for dinner, the most frequently requested bread is the focaccia, not that I do not like a good focaccia. I mean, what is not there to like? Yummy bread drizzled with olive oil flavoured with fresh herbs, maybe a sprinkling of topping and on the side a little dish of greeny-gold olive oil with some punchy flavours, all ready to dip your bread in. But sometimes you have had just enough. I had almost reached that stage of focaccia saturation when I came across this recipe on Bread Experience.

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It seemed like the dough would be a lot wetter than my usual focaccia dough and best of all, it hardly required any kneading. Yes, it required a little planning because you needed to make a poolish the previous night, but then, come on, you surely can mix a little flour and water (not knead, just mix). The blog post called it a “Spring Focaccia” but here in Chennai, we have left spring far behind. In fact, all the lovely green produce now looks wilted and sad. So now I had to think of other things to add to the focaccia. Scrolling down the list, I found listed fennel seeds. Yes, I had that. Then came thyme. Big tick in the box.  Lemon hmmmmmm. . . I was a little ambivalent. All the salad greens, a definite no. But I did have some tomatoes and some olives. I decided to go with the tomatoes.

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I had some bread flour left over from a previous experiment. That came out of the pantry. The poolish was mixed and after an hour outside, into the refrigerator it went. The next day, all I needed to do was give all the ingredients a good mix and just let it be. A stretch and a fold every now and then, the dough was surprisingly easy to work with.  The last time I lined the tray with parchment paper when I was baking a baguette, I had the paper sticking to the baked bread. This time, I wanted no such issues. After debating a while, all the time staring at my parchment paper, It decided to coat it with a spray of oil and sprinkle it with cornmeal. I was being double sure.

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I divided the dough into two and made a pizza on day one. It was so really, really good that before I could think of taking some pictures, the pie was woofed down. A few days later the second half (which I had stashed away in the fridge) which I should have made into a focaccia made its appearance. It was amazing how much of an oven spring the bread had once it was in the oven. It puffed up, a little charry around the edges and had a lovely crunchy crust and the most spectacular crumb I had seen in a focaccia. A small confession here, purists close your eyes–I baked this in my microwave oven on a convection setting. My regular oven was making my kitchen too hot and I just could not take the heat anymore.

INGREDIENTS

I made half the quantity

Poolish:
40 grams Bread Flour (I used the leftover King Arthur Bread flour)
44 grams water, room temperature
⅛ teaspoon yeast
Final Dough
668 grams Bread Flour
167 grams Whole wheat flour
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
625 grams- 725 grams water
84 grams  or all of the  Poolish
17 grams Olive Oil
25 grams water to mix with the salt
17 grams Salt
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METHOD
Poolish:
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the bread flour and yeast. Add the water and combine using a wooden spoon.( I just used my good ol’ hands) Scrape down the bowl and cover with plastic wrap and let it rest on the counter at room temperature (75 degrees F. /25 degrees C.) for 12 to 14 hours. The temperature that day was 40 C. So you can see why I put mine in the fridge.
Final Dough:
  1. The next day, or when ready to mix the final dough, whisk together the flours and yeast in a large bowl. Pour the water and oil over the poolish and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Add the water gradually, reserving the 25 grams to mix with the salt. The amount of water you will use depends on the kind of flour that you use. It will be a very wet and sticky dough. Cover and let it rest for 20 minutes.
  2.  Pour the remaining 25 grams of water over the salt to dissolve it. Using wet hands, thoroughly incorporate the salt into the dough. Suddenly you will find the texture changing. The dough will get tighter and start  holding some shape. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let it rest for 20 minutes.
  3. Using wet hands, stretch and fold the dough from all sides. Then gently tuck the seams under. Cover the bowl again with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and set the dough aside for the third time to ferment for 20 minutes.
  4. Stretch and fold the dough one last time. Tuck the seams under and place it back in the bowl. Cover and set it aside to ferment for 2 hours.
  5. An hour before you plan to bake the focaccia, place a baking stone or tiles in the oven ( I used a cast iron tava) and preheat it to 260 degrees C. If you plan to use a pan for steam, place it in the oven at this time.
  6. Sprinkle your work surface with water. Transfer the dough to the work surface and divide it into four equal pieces. (I made half the quantity so I got two)
  7. Shape each piece into a round and cover with plastic. Let them bench rest for 15 minutes.
  8. I put away one ball of dough in an oiled plastic bag into the fridge to be used later.
  9. Lightly oil a parchment paper and sprinkle cornmeal. Place the dough ball on the sheet. Gently press on the dough to degas it and then shape each piece into a flattish round. Cover the rounds with plastic wrap and let them proof for 45 minutes.
  10. Uncover the dough, drizzle olive oil over the top and gently stretch each piece into an oval disk the length of the parchment paper, or to the desired size. Sprinkle the top with fennel seeds, thyme and sea salt (optional) and place thinly sliced tomatoes as desired.
  11. Transfer the focaccia with the parchment to the preheated baking stone. If using steam, add ice cubes or ice cold water to the steam pan.
  12. Bake the focaccia for 10 minutes, or until the loaves are golden brown and crisp around the edges. Remove the parchment paper partway through baking to allow the bottom to firm up.
  13. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Slice and crunch and chew away.

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I also realised that this is the bread of the month for the Bread Baking Babes. I was so busy enjoying the texture of this absolutely lovely bread, that almost slipped my line of vision.

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Bialys, the one that refused to get away

I still look up at the sky every day and sigh. No rain clouds, why no clouds at all! A perfect blue sky with a bright yellow sun. And no, I do not think I am in paradise. The heat and humidity is oppressive. I might as well be sitting in a steam injected oven baking away. I would look through my bookmarked recipes and imagine that I am baking them. I made a great many perfect loaves this way. Then one day I saw Karen’s Bialys. Perfect rounds with a little well in the center, filled with onions, poppy seeds and golden cheddar. I tilted my head ever so slightly and to my eyes it looked like the sun in the sky.

IMG_3637 Lest you think that I did not bake anything all these days, let me set the record straight. I did, but nothing that made my heart sing. It was the mindless baking of an addict who needed to feel the dough between her fingers. Somehow this disc like bread kept coming back in my line of vision. As much as I told myself that I would wait for the heat to subside, I could see that summer rains were nowhere in sight. So one evening I threw caution to the winds and started on my preferment. Having started the process, things moved easily. Not a complicated recipe. Add the preferment to the flour and water, autolyse, add the rest of the ingredients, knead, and make the filling in the time between the rises.

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And oh yes, like the bagels, these is Jewish in origin ( I managed to read all this after I put the preferment in the fridge) but have pretty much disappeared in Poland where they originated. Somehow they reappeared in the USA along with the immigrant population. Simpler to make than the holey counterpart, these Bialys need not be dunked in lye and boiled. Just straight forward baking will do.

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The filling itself is quite delicious, a mixture onions, poppy seeds and cheese. I found myself ‘tasting’ quite a few spoonfuls. In fact at one point, I was pretty sure that I will have nothing left for my bialys. The dough was done in a jiffy and was rising. The filling was done and was hidden away from myself. I was already dreaming how delicious the combination was going to taste.

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As they baked, it was the smell of caramelized onions and melting cheese the wafted around the kitchen and curled into my nose. When they were done, I just grabbed one and sat down in my favourite corner with my favourite book. The crunchy crust and the chewy crumb was perfect with the savoury filling. Right now, I am too busy trying to figure out how to hide the rest of the bialys from the rest of the people around.

INGREDIENTS FOR THE PREFERMENT

120 grams lukewarm water
1/2 tsp Instant yeast
180 grams bread flour (I used all purpose with a touch of vital gluten)
1 tsp salt
METHOD
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the water and yeast.
2. Add the flour and yeast, and mix on low for about 2 minutes, until just combined.
3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rest for 30 minutes.
4. Place the dough into an oiled container (with room to grow), cover, and place in the refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours.
You will have more then you need for the actual recipe. Simply store it and use it to make you favourite bread. You will be surprised how much of flavour it will add
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INGREDIENTS FOR THE BIALY

Dough Ingredients

320 grams lukewarm water
465 grams bread flour (I used all purpose again with some vital gluten)
150 grams of the pre ferment, cut into small pieces
1/2 tsp Instant yeast
1 Tbs salt

Filling Ingredients

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 to 4  onions finely diced
60 grams (about 1/2 cup) fine dried breadcrumbs
1 1/2 Tbs poppy seeds
1/2 tsp  salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
95 grams (2 cups) coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese
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  1. Add the flour and water to the bowl of a stand mixer and mix with the dough hook until just combined, about 2 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes. This autolyse will help in the flour to absorb water and help in gluten formation.
  2. Add the pre ferment pieces, yeast, and salt, and mix on low until combined, about 2 minutes.
  3. Increase the speed to medium to medium high, and mix with the dough hook for 5 to 7 minutes, until you have a smooth shiny dough that clears the sides of the bowl.
  4. Place the dough into an oiled dough rising bucket or bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 60 to 90 minutes.
  5. While the dough is rising, prepare the filling. Saute the onions in the olive oil over medium low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until slightly golden and tender, and reduced to about 1/3 its original size. Add the poppy seeds, bread crumbs, and salt. Stir and allow to cool.
  6. Place a baking stone on the center rack of your oven and preheat it to 250 C. Lightly grease a couple of cookie sheets.
  7. Divide the dough into 24 equal pieces, about 40 grams each. Form each piece into a ball, and then flatten it into a 2 inch wide disk. Place the disks on the cookie sheet about 1 inch apart.  Cover each baking sheet loosely with oiled plastic wrap.
  8. Let the dough rise until puffy, about 60 to 90 minutes.
  9. With oiled fingers, press the center of the dough to make a well. Place a loose tablespoon of the filling into the depression, and top with some of the cheddar.
  10.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until golden.
  11. Cool the baked bialys on a wire rack.
  12. Eat immediately or be left with none.

 

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