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I caved. But I caved with purpose. I ended my three week baking strike last weekend. It had to be done. One of my most favorite boys was hosting an Easter brunch and I couldn’t show up empty handed.
Instead I came prepared to take down a few bloody marys and armed with raspberry crumble bars and x bread.
X bread – don’t you like the sound of that? Kind of mysterious, a little provocative, right? I think the x is actually short for experimental, as in experimental bread no. 7, the other title of this bread. X bread is a Cheese Board specialty. Mmmmm, Cheese Board (this is the kind of response you’ll elicit when you mention the Cheese Board to any of their many adoring patrons). The Cheese Board is a Berkeley institution. It’s part cheese shop, part bakery and part pizzeria. The line for pizza is always out the door, but don’t let that discourage you, it moves quickly. The last time I was there I left with a slice of caramelized onion and mushroom pizza, two scones, and x bread.
X bread is a three-cheese bread roll. It’s a Ricotta-based dough that envelops hunks of Cheddar, fresh jalapenos and scallions, and finished with a sprinkle of Parmesan. It has a tender crumb and a richness from the Ricotta and butter in the dough and the pockets of melted cheddar throughout the bread are killer. There’s also a nice hint of sweetness that sets it apart from your typical savory bread. I think it’s my favorite cheese bread ever. It might become yours, too.
adapted from The Cheese Board Collective Works by the Cheese Board Collective
makes 12 rolls
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
3/4 cups warm water
4 cups plus 1 tablespoon bread flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, at room temperature
1/2 cup Ricotta cheese
2 large jalapeno chiles, seeded and coarsely chopped
3 green onions, green and white parts, chopped
1 pound Cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and whisk until dissolved. Cover with plastic and let stand for 5 minutes.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine 4 cups flour, sugar and salt.
Add the butter to the dry ingredients. With the paddle attachment, mix on low speed for 4 minutes, or until it is the size of small peas. Add the yeast mixture, Ricotta cheese, and eggs. Mix on low until combined, about 2 minutes. Switch to the dough hook, increase the speed to medium, and knead for 6 minutes, or until the dough is smooth, silky, and elastic. In a small bowl, toss the jalapenos and green onions with 1 tablespoon of flour. Add the mixture to the dough and continue to knead on medium speed until well incorporated, about 2 minutes. If the dough becomes too wet from the vegetables, add a tablespoon or more of flour.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Flatten it into a 1-inch thick round and place the cheddar cheese in the center. Gather the dough around the cheese and knead just until the cheese is evenly distributed, taking care not to break it up.
Form the dough into a ball and place it in a large oiled bowl. Turn the dough to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and let it rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1-1/4 hours, or until doubled in size.
Lightly dust 2 baking sheets with flour. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and divide it into 12 pieces. Cover with a floured kitchen towel and let rest for 10 minutes. Shape each piece into a small round and place on the prepared pans at least 3 inches apart. Gently flatten the rolls with the palm of your hand. Cover with a floured kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes, or until doubled in size and a finger pressed into the dough leaves an impression.
Fifteen minutes before the rolls have finished rising, arrange the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back. Bake 15 minutes longer, for a total of 30 minutes, or until the rolls are golden on the top and bottom. Transfer to a wire rack. While still hot, brush the rolls with olive oil and sprinkle them with Parmesan. Let cool.
Enjoy warm or at room temperature.
While I was at the farmer’s market this past weekend, all I wanted was fruit. I felt like I was being taunted by all of the gold nugget oranges I passed on the way in. And strawberries. There were strawberries that were practically begging to be made into pie. Or ice cream. Or a shortcake. I’m totally not struggling with sugar deprivation, cant you tell?
Amazingly, I remained focused and came home with a half-dozen avocados and a few bunches of asparagus. And long-stemmed tulips, because I needed them. That’s how I roll these days. Not that I mind terribly. I’ve been enjoying my handfuls of pistachios and sharp cheddar cheese and chicken sausage and lots of veggies and greens.
One night last week I came home and made this asparagus salad. It was the highlight of my week. It’s a salad made of raw asparagus shaved into thin ribbons and tossed in a super-flavorful lemon-anchovy vinaigrette. The recipe comes from Canal House Cooking. I’ve been obsessed with the series since last year, when I first got my hands on Volume 1. Christopher Hirsheimer, one half of the duo behind the Canal House, is my idol. Seriously. She is a phenomenal food photographer and has photographed countless cookbooks. She co-founded this little publication. And now she and Melissa Hamilton are self-publishing these Canal House cookbooks. I love their laid back approach to food, and their gorgeous, no-fuss aesthetic.
And now I love this salad. It’s the easiest thing to throw together, like so easy that you can come home after a long day and snap your fingers and it’s done. Because I’d never had raw asparagus, I was a tad nervous at first. But now I am definitely a fan. As a matter of fact, it’s my new favorite way to prepare asparagus. The raw asparagus is crunchy and has a very fresh, almost grassy flavor when shaved thin. I couldn’t stop eating it. I’m not going to lie, I actually ate just about an entire bunch of asparagus all by myself throughout the evening. My brother looked at me in horror; you know what they say about the effects of asparagus. Oh well. It was worth it.
asparagus salad with lemon-anchovy vinaigrette
adapted from Canal House Cooking, Volume 1 by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton
4-6 anchovy fillets
1 small clove garlic
coarse salt and pepper
juice of 1/2 lemon (I used a whole lemon)
1/4 cup really good extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch asparagus
With a heavy knife, chop and mash the anchovies and garlic together with kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper on a cutting board. Transfer the paste into a small bowl and add the lemon juice. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.
Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus, bending the spears with two hands to find the natural snapping point. Using a mandoline or very sharp vegetable peel, carefully slice the asparagus lengthwise into long thin ribbons. Place the ribbons in a large salad bowl and toss with the vinaigrette until thoroughly coated . Serve immediately.
It’s been an interesting week over here. For a number of reasons, I’ve decided to part ways with carbs. It had to be done. All of this baking and doughnut making was really starting to show. And since I know nothing of that word moderation, I tend to go all or nothing in terms of my dietary patterns. But we’ll be reunited when I go to New York next month, where I am sure to have my fill of pizza and delicious sweet things.
Of course, before I said goodbye to carbohydrates, I made bread. As I mentioned last week, I’m trying to use some of the flour I’ve accumulated over the last few months. And bread making was an obvious solution.
Aside from the pan de muerto I made in high school for Spanish class (which was very bad), I cannot recall a single bread making experience in all of my years of baking. I’ve always been impressed by people who make bread. Years ago, I had a coworker who made his own bread every week. I thought this was pretty much the coolest thing since sliced bread.
Up until about a month ago, I was really intimidated by bread making and yeasted doughs in general. There was the issue of activating the yeast with just the right temperature of water – too hot and you’ll kill the yeast, too cool and the yeast wont do a thing. Then there’s that whole concept of patience; there is a lot of down time when working with yeasted dough and I tend to like instant results. I was also without a dough hook attachment for my mixer, which I thought was an absolute necessity for successful bread making. So I finally broke down and bought the attachment (a great tool, but not 100% necessary afterall). And I figured out that the whole waiting thing isn’t so bad as long as you busy yourself; run a load of laundry, poke around in the garden, call a friend, do what you’ve gotta do.
Last month’s doughnut making extravaganza really opened my eyes to how magical yeasted dough is. I love the idea of flour and water becoming this living, breathing thing with the addition of yeast. And I really enjoyed working the dough the old fashioned way – you can literally feel it transform beneath your hands into this gorgeous, malleable entity. I realized that if I could make doughnuts, I could make bread.
And since everything on the list of ingredients was sitting in my pantry, I turned around and got to work on this oatmeal sandwich bread. This is another gem from Good to the Grain. It’s made with whole-wheat flour, rolled oats and molasses. The molasses give it a lovely sweet aroma which fills the kitchen as it bakes. The bread is hearty without being too dense and is perfect freshly sliced or toasted. It is an excellent platform for butter and preserves and fantastic in the form of a grilled cheese sandwich, which was my way of abandoning carbs with a bang.
oatmeal sandwich bread
adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce
makes 1 large loaf
butter for the bowl and the pan
1 package active dry yeast
3 tablespoons unsulphured (not blackstrap) molasses
2-1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 cups bread flour
1 cup rolled oats
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 tablespoon kosher salt
*If you prefer to make this bread by hand, knead the dough for about 15 minutes, adding flour as needed.
Lightly butter a large bowl and a bread loaf pan about 9x5x3 inches. Set aside.
Add 2 cups of warm water, yeast, and molasses to the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir, allowing the yeast to bloom for about 5 minutes, until it begins to bubble. (If it doesn’t, it may be inactive; throw it out and start over with a new package.)
Add the flours, oats, and butter to the bowl with the yeast mixture and stir until combined. Cover with a towel and let stand for 30 minutes. (This gives the flour time to absorb the water, which will yield a moist bread with a better crumb.)
Attach the bowl and the bread hook to the mixer, add the salt, and mix on medium speed for 6 minutes. The dough should slap around the sides without sticking. If the dough is sticking at any time during the mixing, add a tablespoon or two of bread flour until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. The dough should be soft, supple, and slightly tacky.
For the first rise, turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead it a few times. Put the dough into the buttered bowl, cover it with a towel, and let it rise for about 1 hour, or until it has doubled in size. (It is ready if a dimple remains after a floured finger is gently pushed into the dough; if the dough springs back, it needs to rise longer.)
To shape the dough, scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Press down on the dough, working it toward a square shape while depressing all of the bubbles. Fold the dough down from the top to the middle, then up from the bottom to the middle. Next bring the newly formed top and bottom edges together and pinch the seam in the middle, sealing the seam with your fingers. Pinch the sides together and roll the shaped dough back and forth, plumping it so that it’s evenly formed and about the size of your loaf pan. Place the dough in the pan with the seam side down and press it gently into the corners of the pan.
For the second rise, cover the dough with a towel and let it rise in a warm place for about 1 hour, or until the dough puffs up barely or just over the edge of the pan. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 400°F.
When the dough has finished its final rise, sprinkle the top of the loaf with oats or bran, if desired.
Bake for about 40 minutes, rotating halfway through. The loaf is ready when the top and bottom crusts are dark brown. To see if the bread is ready, give the top of the loaf a thump to see if it sounds hollow. If the hollow sound isn’t there and the bread isn’t quite dark enough, bake for another 5 minutes. Remove the loaf from the pan and cool on a baking rack, preferably for a few hours, so that the crumb doesn’t collapse when cut and the flavor can develop.