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Friday, July 25, 2008

Attempting to be Artisanal

Due to overwhelming demand from my fanbase (my brothers Jeff and Tom), I'll detour from talk of Italy and BBQ to discuss bread baking. Pizza, fried dough and good quality Italian bread have always been a staple in our family. I've been toying with a recipe from the King Arthur Whole Grain Baking book and adapted it into a great, basic multi-grain dough that can be used for pizza, ciabata and just about any Italian savory bread dish. The recipe and technique is as follows:

1 cup whole wheat flour
¾ cup cool water
¼ tsp dry yeast
Mix, cover and leave over night

Place starter in stand mixer bowl with dough hook and the following:
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups bread flour
½ cup multi-grain hot cereal (unflavored, unsweetened variety sold next to oatmeal)
¼ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon dry yeast
1 ¼ cup cool water

Start mixing on low, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally until all dry ingredients are incorporated.

The dough should be wetter than you think. The consistency should be between taffy and cake batter. If it seems dry, add more water.

Beat on low for 10 minutes, and then turn out into an oiled bowl. Cover with a cloth and let rise for one hour.

Gently lift the dough out of bowl, starting from the center and letting it drop gently, allowing the loose dough to stretch from your hands into the bowl (almost like pulling taffy).

Borrowed without permission from the King Arthur Whole Grain Baking Book because I couldn't figure out how to take a picture while I had both hands covered in dough and olive oil. (Publishers please forgive me.)

Repeat once per hour for a total of three times. This develops a very elastic dough with long chains of gluten that will hold big air bubbles. After the third turn, preheat your oven to 500 degrees and form the dough into loaves as follows:

For a normal Italian (Ciabatta style) loaf, I start with 500 grams of dough (about one third of the total recipe)

First form it into a rectangle, as if you were making a pizza

Next, roll that up "jelly role" style

Pinch the edges well to seal up the loaf

I use a French Baguette pan to rise my loaves

Hint, line the pan with Reynolds Wrap Release foil which has an amazing non-stick coating

Once the loaves have risen (about an hour), you can bake them in the baguette pan, but they will end up with a round bottom. Instead, I like to slide them (foil and all) out of the pan and onto a hot pizza stone.

After 10 minutes, drop the oven temp to 400 degrees and pull the foil from under the loaf

Continue baking directly on the stone for 10 more minutes, rotate the loaf 180 degrees and cook for 5 more minutes.

Cool on a wire rack and enjoy!

Nutritional analysis:
Serving size: 42g (about 2 slices) Calories 84 Fat 2gm Fiber 2gm Carb 14 gm

For pizza, keep the dough refrigerated, then when you are ready to cook it, pinch off a tennis ball sized piece and form the crust as you like it.

I like to place a baking stone in my barbecue grill and preheat it on high for 1 hour. This helps create a super crispy crust.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Viva Veneto!

Just completed an amazing eating and drinking odyssey. Chiko and I had to go to Italy to attend the wedding of two of our very dear friends. (I know this sounds like a hardship, but somehow we managed to enjoy ourselves!) We did so much and took so many pictures, that there is no way I could cover it all in one post, so I'll just hit you with a few highlights and then follow up with more detailed posts later on.

Lake Garda, Italy

Our friends Mark and Sylvia live in the town of Peschiera del Garda, just outside of Verona, in a region known as the Veneto. This is an amazingly diverse part of Italy that is popular with European tourists, but seems to have not caught on with Americans yet. Those who go to northeastern Italy usually hit Venice and then don't see any of the rest of the region, and that is truly a shame. The Veneto is home to some great wines, great food and spectacular sightseeing (both historic and the natural variety).

Two Bedroom Loft Apartment in a Converted Farmhouse

Instead of going to a stuffy hotel, we were fortunate enough to stay at a condominium which our friend owns, in a converted farm house from the 16th century. This is a fantastic way to see Italy and to practice speaking Italian! Because we had our own kitchen, we also got to cook our own food a few times, which not only saved us some money but also forced us to use our Italian when we went to the fish market, farmers market, butcher shop, etc.

At the Daily Market in Peschiera

Our daily routine usually consisted of coffee and breakfast at home, out on the road around 10 to sight see, wine taste, etc., lunch at a restaurant, then more exploring, a stop at the market for some fresh ingredients and home to cook dinner and relax with a bottle of wine. Did I mention the wine? The Veneto region is home to some of the best wines in Italy (in my opinion of course and sure to be hotly debated amongst Italians).

Wine Tasting at one of the Many Wineries

Our apartment is located in the Lugana wine region, which is not well known outside of Italy and Germany. Lugana is best known for it's excellent white wine, which goes very well with the seafood from nearby Lake Garda. It is also close to the Valpolicella region, which is better known in the states, but mostly because of cheap table wine from mega-wine producers such as Bolla. Valpolicella turns out a large quantity of simple local red, but also makes several fine wines such as Amarone.

Winery in Lugana

Wineries in Valpolicella

Tasting More Wines!