Hang In There Bread

I spotted my priest, Father Nicholas, spooning strawberry jam onto a store bought white thing that resembled bread. That was midday Monday. That was his lunch…

It’s Wednesday and I’ve been thinking about that moment ever since. When I realized I’d have a few hours to bake today, I knew who needed a fresh ring of rosemary rolls, and a jar of homemade kumquat marmalade (so good!). He’s an incredible faster, that man, but I don’t want him to tumble from the altar with so many services left to go!

[Be Gone–you old, preservative-filled white bread, kept in the church refrigerator!]

Rosemary rolls, and kumquat marmalade–to be handed over after unction tonight.

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It’s Holy Week for us Orthodox–blessings to all of you who are in the midst of this beauty.

For those in Fort Collins, our old home town, digging out from the snow storm–I send you good wishes for an AMAZING summer (in which all of your vegetables grow enormous and every day brings sun and respite).

And to the rest of you lovely folk, near and far–Cheers and happy baking and giving!

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Trick :: Long First Rise–What Then?

Photo by Matt Roberts, who made that fun movie about my bread giving..

Photo of rosemary rolls by Matt Roberts, who made that fun movie about my bread giving..

Once you’ve baked for a bit and know what dough should look like at the various phases then it’s fairly easy to begin fudging here and there with ingredients, proofing times, and oven temperatures.

Today, I will be away from the house for more than a first rise. I’ve been away from the house almost all week, which is why I haven’t been blogging or baking, because I’m spending this week in first grade.

After the first day of school back in first grade I came straight home, flung off my boots, and took a two-hour nap. OH MY!

But we have no bread in the house and children are begging.

So, I’m mixing up some dough for rosemary rolls and here’s what I’ll do.

Reduce the amount of yeast in my mix, add some sourdough starter, use cold water (I always use cold, filtered water) and make sure the dough isn’t sitting in a sunny place. Mix it all up and let it rise, rise, rise.

When I come home, after about five hours of rising, the dough will have spent much of its energy. So… I’ll get the pots into the oven, heat it all up, and when the oven is close-ish to its 450 degrees I’ll shape the rolls and let them sit for about 10-15 minutes–maybe less–I’ll keep those eyes of mine wide open and decide then. If I let them have a long second rise then I’ll end up with flatbread. Not that I have anything against flatbread, but that’s not today’s mission!

I’ve done this before, and it works. A long first rise means a very short second one. A short first rise means a longer first one–or maybe even two additional rises. We shouldn’t be slaves to our recipes and it’s pretty fun experimenting with yeasties to see just how they can be manipulated and stretched so that we’re not anxious and fretting about being in the kitchen when we really should be sitting in a desk learning first grade goodness!

Two and a half more days to go and then I’m back to being a grown up. Cheer me on, would you?!

Tips :: Rice Flour

Rosemary rolls. One of my very favorite breads to make. Not only do I love the jaunt out into the garden, where I choose the best few branches to snip, but I inhale deeply over and over the smell of the chopped rosemary, which lingers in my kitchen.

I mix the dough, let it rise, then dump it onto the green granite counter for shaping. One roll at a time I spin them across the surface and shape them into the sweetest little balls. I open the pantry, pull out the mason jar filled with rice flour and douse it all over that giant Finnish bread board my brothers gave me.

What a gift, all of this is! The miracle of the yeast, the simple ingredients mixed and melding.

I use rice flour in much of my baking. It’s the best dusting flour that I’ve found, to provide a barrier for non-sticking. Some people use corn meal, and others wheat flour, but rice flour has virtually no taste and bakes away beautifully.

And I know this is a good tip–because my amazing baker brothers told me so! They’re right about everything when it comes to bread…

So I dust the board with rice flour–and I dust the tops of the rolls, too, to hold in moisture. I cover them with a towel and let them rise until the oven is hot, hot, hot.

And when I’m done, I scrape the extra rice flour back into the mason jar to be used again.

I found another use for rice flour a long while ago. This recipe for Dutch Crunch is amazing. Wonderful winter treats, full of flavor and good cheer.

How do you use rice flour in your kitchen? I’d love to know.

Better to Be Clear!

Sometimes, the little people see bread and it just vanishes. Even right before dinner. Does that happen in your house?

This week I baked some rosemary rolls (yum!!!)

and I wanted to share with a family that has six of the sweetest mouths to feed. That family is made of sugar and spice and everything nice. But eight people, that’s more than our five…

Hence the note:

And the note worked! I returned from my running around and both beautiful rings of rolls were still on the counter, ready for giving.

One for us, one for them, and that’s how the story ends.

Cheers!

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 : )

Thankful in Vermont

12 rosemary rolls
Mixed: 9:30 am
Molded: 11:15
Baked: 12:20
Gave to handymen, Pat and Jack

Everyone had left for the coffee shop; I stayed behind to start on some bread. I wondered who I might be able to share some rosemary rolls with in this remote setting here in Vermont. With no neighbors nearby (we are staying at a 200-year-old farmhouse on lots of open acres) I prayed, while kneading, for someone to share with…
…and then in walked two older gentlemen, Pat and Jack, straight into the farmhouse. They startled me at first, and I startled them. Neither of us knew why the other was there…

I came to learn, through a very lively conversation, that they are retired, but work a bit doing small side jobs in the neighborhood. I liked them immediately–they were funny and open, and seemed to think it humorous that I was enjoying the rain.

And it was raining. Southern California is not known for its annual rainfall, so I’m always a bit childlike when it starts to drizzle. I immediately want to send everyone outside to dance in puddles and sail boats down the street gutters. We rarely get to wear rainboots… And though we didn’t pack any rainboots for this summer adventure, just the thought of them made me happy.

“You know,” Pat said with a grimace. “Here in this county, it rained 23 days last June.”

I pondered 23 days of rain in one month while I continued baking and told the gentlemen to come back in three hours for some hot bread.

So off they went to clean a neighbor’s barn and three hours later they were back.

Feeding new friends, in the rain, in an old charming farmhouse, in a Vermont that smells so green and alive, with lots of time and space to pray… It doesn’t get much better than that.

Today is a good day to be thankful. Don’t you think?