Cooking, My Kitchen My World

My first stop on the My Kitchen My World tour: Sweden

Knäckebröd

My very patient online baking buddy Margaret has been inviting me for several months to join the My Kitchen My World group, which is on an extended culinary tour of the world, country by country, month by month.

I finally decided to join for August’s virtual visit to Sweden, and then, of course, August slipped by and… “Hello, September!”

Luckily, Margaret is unendingly patient and encouraging, so here I am, slipping this little taste of Sweden into your day, a bit past the official deadline.

Me being me, with my predilection for all things bready, it didn’t take long to settle on baking a Swedish bread, and nothing seemed more basic or essential than the traditional knäckebröd, the crunchy cracker (or crisp bread) that can be served with everything from cheese to jam to smoked fish to soup to stew.

When I saw the picture of seeded knäckebröd on the Bread & Companatico site, I was smitten.

This is a quick cracker recipe that uses a combination of flours and seeds. Really, you can use whatever you have on hand. The traditional recipe calls for at least some rye flour, but Barbara also gives a gluten-free corn flour variation. I used a mix of rye, bread, and whole wheat flour. You can include whatever seeds you have on hand (I used black sesame, white sesame, and sunflower), but I think what gives this cracker its essential taste is the inclusion of whole cumin seeds.

Knäckebröd - Kneaded

Knäckebröd - Proofed

Knäckebröd - Divided

Knäckebröd - Rolled

Wikipedia informs me that these sorts of flat/crisp breads have been a part of Swedish cuisine for over a thousand years. No wonder. They’re easy and fast to make, portable, and, since they’re baked until very crisp, they last a long time without going stale or moldy. I imagine Swedish babies teethe on these things. And they’ll last in a ship’s hold for the Atlantic crossing.

The first night, we served our knäckebröd with goat milk ricotta and tomato jam (see? I told you I’m obsessed with that. To make your own, use this recipe from Food in Jars. I promise you’ll love it).

Knäckebröd with ricotta and tomato jam

Since then, I’ve been nibbling on it plain as a snack, eating it smeared with tomato jam, or with a slice of cheese. Each time, I’m surprised, and delighted, by that hit of cumin. I think it would work perfectly as a scooper for a rich Indian curry. I think I’m going to like traveling with MKMW…

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To see the round up of the group’s Swedish recipes, visit the My Kitchen My World (MKMW) site after the first of the month. (You can also see where the group has already traveled.) To join in, just make a dish (or more) for the month’s country, blog about it, and put a link to your post in the comments on the MKMW page.

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Cooking

Nothing up my sleeve

Pita Bread - Puffy

After awhile, when you cook long enough, you kind of get used to things just working the way you expect it to. Or you get used to recognizing possible pitfalls in the recipe as written and know how to work around it so that you get the results you want. Things hum along.

Sure, sometimes there are failures.

Like when I made banana bread a couple months back from the tried-and-true recipe I’ve made 25 times before with no trouble, and, who knows what happened, but the center never baked. Which I didn’t find out until it had cooled and I sliced into the middle of the bread and… ew… out spilled the unbaked batter.

Kitchen Pixies? Yeah, that’s who I’ll blame. The kitchen Pixies. (Which, by the way, would make a good band name.)

Anyway, mistakes and miscalculations happen, particularly when I’m rushing and haven’t read the recipe all the way through or when I forget a step, but, really, true surprises are rare.

Which is why, had you peeked in our kitchen window mid-day last Saturday, you would have seen me doing my Kitchen Pixie “Dance of Glee” when I saw magic happen in the oven.

Get a load of this: You make a dead-simple silky dough (you can do it in your mixer), let it ferment for a couple of hours (or up to a few days), cut it into pieces, shape it into balls, roll the balls flat, then bake the flat discs in a nice-and-hot oven for three minutes.

Pita Bread - Resting

Pita Bread - Rolled out

And then, all by themselves, they POOF! They know how to do this from some deep encoding in their little pita DNA. Or something. They just… puff up. You don’t flip them. You don’t touch them. They perform this little trick of magic on their own. And then? You get to eat them.

Who says there’s no such thing as magic?

Pita Bread - Magic

Pita Bread

p.s. If you need something to dip the pita in, try this hummus recipe, also from Smitten Kitchen. It’s the hummus recipe we’ve been hankering for for years. It really works.

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Cooking, Let's Lunch

Pain au levain

Pain au levain

Well, here we are, November.

You and I don’t get along so well. I resent you for stealing my summer warmth. You blithely turn the sun off at 4.15 pm. You freeze the water in the goat’s water buckets every night. You slither your brittle, windy fingers through the walls in this old house. What’s worse, you seem indifferent to my whining.

This month’s Let’s Lunch theme is gratitude. And I admit at first I found little to be grateful for. Because I’m a November grumpy pants.

But even just a few minutes of making a list of all I have to be grateful for yielded an embarrassment of riches (not to mention my embarrassment at not knowing how to spell “embarrassment”).

Health, family, shelter, power, heat, functioning limbs and brain, warm food when I need it, freedom, choice, a light I can switch on when the sun sets, seemingly limitless clean water rushing out of the faucet.

How many people on earth can claim that list? How many people, even on just the east coast of the United States are without warmth and light right now, on this bitter, November-swept day? How many people around the world live in fear, under persecution, without freedom, without adequate food, or healthcare, or clean water?

When I wrote “embarrassment”, I wasn’t joking.

So, in gratitude, I decided to make this simple, unadorned, most basic thing to share for our lunch: a sourdough loaf of bread, from my favorite pain au levain recipe, by James MacGuire.

(Note that the original recipe is a fourteen-page long, wonderful tour through the history of french sourdough breads in issue 83 of The Art of Eating. The recipe I’ve linked to here is a slightly adapted version of that recipe.)

Pain au levain - Starter measured

StarterToRoughDough

FoldProgression

Shaping

Flour, water, salt, wild yeast.

Hands, time, heat.

That’s all you need. Plus a little bit of patience.

You don’t even need a mixer, or a spoon.

This is a slow bread, made by mixing the dough with one hand, then “folding” the dough once an hour for four hours.

If you’re at home on a quiet weekend day, you can easily fit it into your schedule: fold for thirty seconds, go back to reading your book in front of the fire, or playing “Careers” with your kids, or raking the lawn. Visit the bread in another hour and see how it’s changed, give it another quick fold. Go back to the laundry, or making soup, or those phone calls you have to make.

You see how it goes.

Gratitude. It can be tangible. And eaten with a slice of perfectly aged goat cheese.

I only wish I could sit down at a table tonight and share it with you.

Pain au levain

Here’s a complete list of the recipes of gratitude made this month by the Let’s Lunch crew (I’ve included my own at the bottom for completeness). Check them out!

Gratitude “Plumb” Cake from Lisa at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Gratitude Fried Rice from Linda at spicebox travels
Seafood Chowder from Lucy at A Cook and Her Books
Cracked Black Pepper and Blue Cheese Crackers (gluten free) from Charissa at Zest Bakery
A Thanksgiving tablecloth tradition from Lucy at In a Southern Kitchen
Gratitude Soup from Rashda at Hot Curries and Cold Beer
Pumpkin Muffins with Cinnamon Sugar (gluten free) from Linda at Free Range Cookies
Pumpkin Roll with Pecans from Annabelle at a Glass of Fancy
5-Minute Wonder Soup from Eleanor at Wok Star
Green Tomato Salad from Renee at My Kitchen and I
Asian-Style Pickled Oyster Mushrooms from Joe at Joe Yonan
Pain au levain from Rebecca at GrongarBlog

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Cooking

A honey of a loaf

Challah - baked

Where are my manners?

I’ve blathered about this Challah many times. I’ve mentioned it offhand in the course of other posts. I’ve even done a side-by-side comparison with at least one other Challah recipe. But somehow I’ve neglected to share the recipe with you.

So what better day to do that than on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year? It’s the perfect occasion for a festive, enriched bread, drizzled with a swirl of honey to help ring in a sweet new year.

Challah_YeastToMix

Let me tell you, you need to make this bread.

Even if you don’t usually make bread, you need to make this bread.

As breads go, it’s an easy one. From start to finish, it’ll take just five hours, and only a fraction of that is time you’ll actually spend doing anything other than watching it rise to the lip of the bowl you’re proofing it in.

If you have a stand mixer, go ahead and use it; the bread won’t suffer one bit. I’ve kneaded this dough dozens of times, both by hand and by machine. With either method, you’ll be rewarded with one of the silkiest, friendliest doughs you’ve ever made.

Challah_Kneading

For shaping, use whatever method and shape you like. When I was growing up, the gorgeous braided Challah was reserved for special occasions: holidays, bar mitzvahs, weddings. Our everyday Challah was made in sandwich loaves, perfect for slicing and toasting.

Oh, the toast! If for no other reason than the toast, you must make this bread!

Challah - folded

Ahem. But back to shaping.

Challah

I usually make a simple three-strand braided loaf: cut the proofed dough into three equal pieces, shape them into long strands, and braid them together as you would a plait of hair. If you prefer something even simpler, just shape it as you would any regular sandwich loaf and proof it in a loaf pan. You can also divide it two smaller loaves.

If you want to be more daring, try a six-strand braid, using this helpful video as your guide.

For the loaf I made last night, I decided to try the four-strand round braid, so beautifully illustrated here. The round loaf is nice. It has more loft than the three-strand braid, so you get taller, thicker slices, and a bigger interior-to-crust ratio, if you like that. Be warned, though, if you do a round loaf, it’ll take a little bit more time to bake.

Challah_shaping

Before baking, the last thing you’ll have to decide is if you want to put any toppings on the Challah. If you like to keep things simple, brush on an egg wash (an egg yolk mixed with a teaspoon of water) just before you put the loaf into the oven. If you’d prefer, after the egg wash, you can sprinkle on some poppy or sesame seeds, or anything else you like to sprinkle on bread.

Let it bake fully. You want the interior temperature to be about 190ºF. Resist the temptation to slice into it right away. Let it cool a bit to let the interior finish cooking. The last thing you want is a soggy loaf.

But please don’t wait until it’s cool before you get a taste. It’s very nice cool. It’ll taste great. You can cut slices and drizzle honey on them, or eat them plain, or toast them (yes!).

But warm. Oh, warm slices of Challah. Is there anything better?

Yes, there is: fist-sized lobes of dough ripped off the still-warm loaf.

And kittens and baby goats. Cuddled while you’re eating warm Challah.

Challah - crumb

Challah - toasted

Challah - jammed

I’ve tried many Challah recipes, but I always come back to this one. It never fails. I hope you love it, too.

L’Shana Tova to you and yours. May it be happy, healthy, prosperous, and sweet as honey.

Challah

(adapted from Second Helpings, Please)

Ingredients
1 tsp sugar
½ cup warm water
1 package active dry yeast (or 2 ¼ tsp of instant yeast)
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup warm water
¼ cup sugar (or honey, if you prefer)
2 tsp salt
2 large eggs (if you can find them, I think duck eggs make the best challah)
4 –5 cups all-purpose flour (or substitute whole wheat flour for up to half of the all-purpose; I like using King Arthur Flour’s white whole wheat.)
1 egg yolk
poppy or sesame seeds (optional)

Method

  1. If using active dry yeast, rinse a large mixing bowl with hot water. Dissolve sugar in ½ cup of warm water. Sprinkle yeast on top and let stand for 10 minutes.
  2. If using instant yeast instead, you can omit the 10-minute wait.
  3. Add oil, water, sugar, salt, eggs, and half of flour. Stir to dissolve, and then beat well.
  4. Stir in the remaining flour. The dough should be sticky.
  5. Cover the dough and let it rest for 10 minutes.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead for 10 minutes (or knead in a stand mixer for ~7 minutes). Add as little flour as you can get away with. The dough should be tacky but not sticky (if you’re using a mixer, the dough should clear the sides of the bowl, but stick to the bottom).
  7. Round up in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk, about 1 ½ – 2 hours.
  8. Gently deflate, cover, and let rise again until double, about 45 minutes.
  9. Divide the dough into three equal parts (or six, if you are making two small loaves). Shape into strands. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet (or use a silpat or parchment paper) and braid loosely. Fasten ends securely.
  10. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise until double, 30-45 minutes.
  11. Preheat oven to 400°.
  12. Brush with a beaten egg yolk. If you’re going to add poppy or sesame seeds, sprinkle them on now.
  13. Bake at 400° for 30 minutes, until golden brown and the internal temperature reaches 190-200ºF. If you’re making a round loaf, allow extra baking time, up to another 20 minutes or so. If you see the crust browning too quickly but the internal temperature is not high enough yet, tent the loaf with aluminum foil to keep it from getting too dark.
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