Distracted by Fire

Driving home from the morning run to school I recognized the familiar plume of smoke that shouts Fire. Here in Santa Barbara we’ve become all too familiar with the symptoms and realities of forest fires.

I returned home, had breakfast, opened up my computer and there was the emergency email from the County, providing a bevy of details. Emails came about every half hour and were full of specifics–how many engines were headed up the mountain, how many helicopters and air tankers, how many men on the ground. They were going to throw all their resources at this blaze to catch it now–on maybe the hottest and most dangerous day in October. I said a quick prayer for friends who live in that exact place.

But here at my home, with the fire several miles away and the winds calm, I went about my day.

And that meant bread baking. I knew things were off in my head when I discovered I was almost out of flour but decided to bake anyway! The rest of the white flour went into the mix, then some garbanzo bean flour, a little honey and milk, some yeast, grind up some kamut, and, OH!!!, why not grind some oats while you’re at it! Was I crazy?

I was crazy.

Back to email. Back to fire updates and fiddling with stories, and sweeping up pine needles.

Before I knew it the dough had risen risen risen, risen way too long and the shaped rolls were looking desperate and wrinkled and forgotten. Into the oven anyway!

And again, lost in some other time zone I forgot the oven was hot, and that the rolls were done. Over baked; it was just one of those days.

To save it all, despite the bizarre concoction of grains and what not, John Ronan came home from school wanting toast with fig jam. Of course! I said. And rhubarb jam, he said. Of course! I said again. I was thrilled–the child doesn’t even like figs or rhubarb.

And believe it or not, the whole dinner gang loved the bread, wrinkles and all. Distractions don’t always make something turn out lovely, but I suppose it doesn’t mean they can’t at least be tasty!

So, here’s to all of you who get distracted from time to time like I do. Part of life, part of being human. But forgive me for not sharing the bread. I just couldn’t. Look at it–would you have shared?

And the fire is close to containment. Thank you for your prayers! No excuses of that sort today. Time to get back to baking (with not quite so many ingredients…).

Cheers, friends.

Quick and Yeasty (and quite delicious two days later…)

To yeast, or not to yeast.

Just recently I tried baking up my first batch of quick rolls made with yeast.

So, usually… if I want rolls then I make a batch of hearth bread (flour, water, salt and yeast–just basic) and mold the dough into rolls. Lots of the time I add rosemary, because we’re addicted to rosemary rolls here at the Meyer Casa.

Sometimes I make rolls by using baking powder and butter and eggs and such. There’s a recipe for gruyere rolls in my Crabtree and Evelyn Cookbook that I succumb to now and again.

But never have I baked a batch of quick rising (quick rising typically means lots of yeast,  plus some eggs, and probably butter!!!) rolls made with yeast. Wow! New! Super fantastique! Obviously I still have a lot to learn when it comes to baking…

So, just to be confusing, I posted the photo above, and it does NOT show one roll made with yeast and one roll made with baking powder, or some such other comparisony thing. No, they are both yeasty rolls and the one on the left collapsed. I thought it was hillarious and snapped a shot–with the lovely Lion (which looks like a sun) made by the hand of John Ronan in the background.

You already know–there is a huge difference between a bread product that rises with baking powder and/or soda, and something that is leavened by yeast. Sometimes the difference isn’t immediately apparent, and that’s actually the point. When things are warm, and out of the oven, our senses take over and it’s ALL GOOD!

But later. That’s the difference. A scone that is five hours old, made with baking powder, just isn’t all that tasty. But a roll like the one above, a yeast-leavened roll, kept safe all night in a little cozy basket, then popped into the oven and smothered with homemade plum jam in the morning? I promise you, it’s just as amazing as it was the night before. Maybe better–because there’s green tea too.

So, here’s my basket of yeasty rolls. They were fairly tasty with our dinner, but oh, so amazing in the morning.

And I shared some, just in case you’re thinking that I’m getting a bit off track with my giving (which I do from time to time.) I took several of these very rolls over to friends who were hosting my daughter for homework, and when I was presenting them with my typical explanation I realized that they own a pizza restaurant and that maybe I had picked the wrong folks to give a bread product to.

But later, they said Thanks! And that they liked them!

So, there you have it. Hoping to post the recipe soon to these fun little buns.

And wishing you all good cheer, and happy baking, and thanking you for your continued prayers for our beloved godpapa.

Rolls-in-the-Round

Like grown up play, baking allows me to be creative with my hands, and see the flour and water and yeast and salt take on they mysterious shape and life of its own. Plus, I get to fiddle with fire in the oven, and use knives as I score the bread. Tremendously satisfying and fun is the baking of bread!

Lately I’ve been baking most of my bread in pots. I find that the environment in those pre-heated, cast iron pans brings about results so much like my brothers’ million dollar French ovens… 🙂

And here is a super fun way to put bread on the table, using my typical French dough mix for these rolls, adding a bit of rosemary for umph.

Just love rosemary.

Shape the dough into rolls, then place them in the heated pots and allow them to bake together, forming rolls-in-the-round.

Yum.

Rosemary Rolls

Rosemary Rolls–some made into the shape of a heart

Mixed: 12:30 pm

Molded: 2 :00

Baked: 3:30

Gave to parents of brand-new-baby Salem Isabel!

Here’s a recipe showing how I bake using my kitchen aid as a mixer. I love to mix my doughs by hand, but every now and again I end up using the machine. Recently, when my shoulder was giving me painful fits, it was the only way I was able to make bread using just one arm.

EVERYONE in our home loves rosemary rolls–I love them most at the mixing stage, when I’m chopping the rosemary and the pungent smell fills the kitchen; it rubs all over my hands and lifts my spirits. With the smell seems to come an extra dose of hope and joy to my day, and those are two virtues that I can’t get enough of…

Rosemary grows like a wild weed here in Santa Barbara. Here’s a photo of one planted in our yard, which I’m trying to prune to fan out below my office window.

Rosemary is planted in medians along the roadways here, it crawls up stone walls, and sometimes the upright shrub can be seen reaching to the sky, pretending to be a tree… It’s from the mint family, which explains the intense aroma, and its native growing ground is in the Mediterranean. If you live in a colder climate, you can pot it and bring it indoors, like we did when we lived in Colorado. Rosmarinus means “dew of the sea” and maybe it’s my love for the ocean that causes me to bake these rolls so very often. (If you’re not my friend on facebook, where I post my weekly beach photos, friend me!)

Here is a quick recipe for one of my favorites! If you give it a whirl, I’d love to hear how the recipe worked for you.

(By the way, it’s basically my French bread recipe except for these three differences. It’s mixed with a machine, rosemary is added, and I’ve increased the amount of ingredients in order to make a bigger batch of dough for more rolls. Makes about 16.)

Time Commitment: Depending on the temperature in your kitchen, have to be in and out of the house for at least 3 1/2 hours in order to make these rolls. If you choose to retard the dough after the first rise, then it makes this recipe very flexible.

Tools you need:
  • Cookie sheets or bread peel
  • Large mixing bowl
  • an oven :)
  • Kitchen-aid or other such mechanical bread mixer thingy
  • Other tools I use, but that aren’t imperative: spray bottle, parchment paper, dough scrapers, baking stone,

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour (I use Trader Joe’s unbleached flour in the blue bag)
  • 1 cup bread flour (could use all TJ’s flour, but I like to add a bit of high protein bread flour to the mix)
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast (can use cake yeast, just need to double it)
  • 16-17 ounces of cool or lukewarm water
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt (I like sea salt)
  • rice flour or corn meal for dusting
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
What to do:

Step One: Combine all dry ingredients in mixer bowl set with a dough hook. Mix for a quick minute, then add all of the water. Mix on second setting (not too fast and not too slow) for about 6-7 minutes.

Step Two: Add rosemary. Mix for another two or so minutes. The dough should be flinging around the inside of the mixing bowl, hopefully not sticking to the sides of the bowl. If it’s really sticking, then add more flour little by little. Be careful not to over-flour your dough; it makes the bread awfully dense. Do the dishes, or the laundry, or light a candle while the mixer does its work.

Step Three: Oil a large glass or ceramic bowl. Transfer your dough from the mixer to the oiled bowl. Cover with a damp towel. Allow it to rise for at least an hour (in my kitchen it usually takes at least 90 minutes–and more typically 2 hours) until doubled in bulk. If I want it to rise more quickly, then I heat my oven to 100 degrees (this is a very low setting and many ovens don’t go this low, but you could just heat your oven for 4-5 minutes, then turn it off…) and proof the dough inside the warm oven.

Step Four: Time to prepare my pans for baking, then mold the dough. First, I take out a sheet of parchment paper and place it on a cookie sheet. I reuse my sheets of parchment paper 2-3 times. I sprinkle the paper with rice flour (you can also use corn meal or regular flour) in order to easily remove the bread when it’s baked.

Divide the dough in half with a sharp knife or dough scraper. Then divide each piece in half (that makes four). Then halve the little doughlets again (that makes eight!). Then in half again!!! 16 🙂 I love making rolls; my brothers can mold rolls using both hands at the same time. I’m not that gifted. Maybe someday.

To shape the rolls, fold the dough in thirds, then with the seam side down, begin to roll the dough like a top across your counter, spinning on the inside of your cupped palm. Make sure your counter is clean and not dusted with flour, so the dough sticks to it a bit. I tried to demonstrate this in the video. Once the rolls are shaped and placed on the parchment paper, cover them with a damp cloth.

(Step Four and a Half: This is an optional step, and is the point when you can easily put your molded loaves into the fridge for a period of retarding. I’ve retarded loaves for between two and twelve hours… Just make sure your molded dough is covered with a moist cloth; you don’t want it to dry out. If you’re putting the loaves into the fridge for just an hour or two, then it’s best to let them rise a bit before putting them next to your chilly leftovers. If you’re retarding your bread all night, then you probably don’t need to let them rise at all before you head to bed…

When you remove the dough from the fridge, if the loaves have fully doubled their bulk, then set them on the counter just a few minutes before you bake. If the dough hasn’t fully risen when you pull them from the fridge, then allow them to finish rising, then straight into the oven they go.)

Step Five: Allow the dough to again double in size. This rise takes less time than the first, usually about 40 minutes to an hour. About 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Step Six: Your rolls are ready to bake and the oven is HOT. Place your cookie sheet onto the baking stone in the center of the oven. Take a spray bottle and spray in your oven, (I like to spray below the bread, but be careful of the heating elements…) to create steam. I typically do this twice during the first 10 minutes of baking.  Bake for 10 minutes.

Reduce the heat of the oven to 425 degrees. Rolls take less time to bake than larger loaves–I typically bake the rolls for another 16-18 minutes (a total of 26-28 in all).

Step Seven: Remove the bread from the oven, and cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes.  Then, the best part. Share : )

Two Kinds of Fire

One batch of rosemary rolls

Mixed: 2:35 pm

Molded: 4:30 pm

Baked: 5:15 pm

Gave to Jim and Jennifer

As I rearranged the rosemary rolls on the hot surface of the baking stone, I pulled my bare hand out of the heat and suddenly remembered that one year ago we were worried about a much bigger flame than the one that bakes bread in my oven… Right above our home near the foothills, a fire had started. It was a hot May day and it was the sound of one fire truck after the other that finally caused my husband and I to peek out our back door.

And there were the flames.

The first days were spent packing and wondering where the wind would push the fire next. When the wind shifted, we evacuated, and waited some more.

The winds blew stronger and we evacuated again. Turn of events–I ended up in the ER, a large ember having flown into my eye. Finally we fled to LA. I passed a birthday away from home, with an eye patch!

What a wild ride. When we returned home, grateful and happily ready to clean the layers of ash from the furniture and patio and plants, we also felt an immense heaviness for those who had lost their homes. There were many.

And all this, after the Tea Fire. And the Gap Fire, and the Zaca Fire before that…

So, on this May day, the first anniversary of last year’s Jesusita Fire, I was in my usual mode of mixing and molding, and baked a batch of rosemary rolls. I wanted to share them with our neighbors, Jim and Jennifer, who moved in more than a year ago. And as I walked to their home, their new home, I realized how it was all fitting together in my mind. Their new house, with the shaded porch and the gorgeous red alstromerias blooming in the front yard, is the replacement for their home that had burned in the Tea Fire 18 months ago…

Here’s to Jim and Jennifer, and to their new home, and to the right kind of fire, the kind that bakes a nice batch of rosemary rolls…