bread

Heavenly Bread: Pão De Deus

In every culture, freshly baked bread evokes waking up to scents of a whole new day of possibilities. While traveling in Portugal, I ate the most delicious bread, or pão. The soft, round rolls were very similar to a snack from my childhood called pau bhaji, a small bun topped with mixed vegetables. I then made the connection that the word pau came via the Portuguese who had traveled to India to trade for spices. In Portugal, pão is eaten straight from the bakery with a strong cup of coffee.

Pão de Deus dough must rise twice before being baked, which gives the bread its fluffy texture. The slightly caramelized coconut topping imparts both a finishing crunch and a hint of sweetness. Pãu is usually eaten at breakfast, but I found that freezing the rolls and pulling them out as needed for an anytime snack was equally delicious! I was not surprised to learn that the Portuguese translation for these rolls is “bread of the Gods.”

Pão De Deus

Recipe reprinted from The Great British Baking show’s Ruby Tandoh:(https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/aug/01/ruby-tandoh-baking-recipes-portuguese-cakes-buns-tarts)
For the dough
10g instant dried yeast
300ml full fat milk, lukewarm
500g strong white flour
1 tsp salt
25g caster sugar
50g butter, softened

For the topping
150g desiccated coconut
150g caster sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
30g butter, softened

For the glaze
1 large egg
1 tbsp caster sugar

  • Stir the yeast into the lukewarm milk and leave for a few minutes. Stir the flour, salt and sugar together in a large bowl, then add the milk and yeast mixture and the softened butter. Mix together thoroughly then knead for 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Leave to rise in a bowl covered with saran wrap. It’s ready after 90 minutes or so, once it has doubled in size.
  • Once the dough has risen, divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll into balls. Pinch the dough underneath to give a smooth top surface. Set the buns on a lightly greased baking tray and cover with saran wrap. Leave to rise for an hour, or until twice their original size, by which time they should feel spongy and soft.
  • While the buns rise, combine the ingredients for the coconut topping and whisk the egg and sugar together for the glaze. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
  • Brush the buns with egg glaze, add a heaped tablespoon of the coconut mixture of each, and bake for 25 minutes in the middle of the oven, until the dough is tan and well-risen and the topping is golden – check after 15 minutes and if the tops are darkening, cover loosely with foil. Let cool. Makes 12 rolls.

 

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Leavened Bread Versus Weather

A. loves channa-batura, a delicious Indian combination of chickpea curry and bread. This meal, however, cannot be whipped up immediately. Batura is a leavened bread, which means that the dough needs between 8-12 hours to rise. Since we were in a rush, we went out to our local Indian restaurant to enjoy the meal. Much to A.’s dismay, the batura that we were served was burned – instead of its normal golden hued puffy and light appearance. Upon sending it back, we received another that looked exactly like the rejected one with an explanation that “you can’t help the weather,” apparently daring us to complain again!  Although we were disappointed, this is a common occurrence with bread that uses leavening agents like yeast.

Yeast, after all, is a living organism. Yeast cells grow and multiply best at 78°F creating bubbles of carbon dioxide that cause dough to rise. The only way to guarantee this steady temperature is by leaving the dough to rise and rest in a bread maker. Without a bread maker, it is still possible to make leavened bread despite the vagaries of weather.

There are also a few other factors that can help in the fermentation process of dough left out at room temperature. Here are a few of the ways to ensure optimal conditions for dough to rise.

  • Flour – sift to aerate the flour until it is loosely packed.
  • Yeast – add a ¼ – ½ tsp more if the temperature is going to be below 78°F, and add less if the temperature is higher. Mix yeast with warm water so that the temperature of the mixture is raised when the yeast is added to room temperature flour.
  • Salt – add less as it hampers yeast cells growth. A ¼ tsp. is plenty (as in the below recipe).
  • Water – adding more water to the flour mixture is typically good, even though this may cause the dough to be sticky. Yeast cells like moisture. After the dough has doubled in volume / risen, more flour can be added as needed to knead the dough.
  • Time and patience – do not rush the process. The longer the yeast has to work with flour mixture, the more time for the dough to double in volume.

Batura (Fried Leavened Bread)

Flour – 2 cups, sifted

Dry active yeast – 2 tsp, mixed with 2 tbsp warm water

Oil – 2 tbsp

Yogurt – 1 tbsp

Salt – ¼ tsp

  • Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.
  • Knead and shape into a ball.
  • Cover with damp cheesecloth or towel.
  • Keep aside for 12- 14 hours. (This is where the weather comes into play. On a damp, summer day, it took more than 14 hours. Be patient.)
  • Roll out the dough into 4-inch disks (or into a size that can be submerged in a wok or deep pan with oil) on a lightly floured surface, adding more flour if the dough doesn’t hold shape or warm water if the dough is too dry.
  • Heat the oil in a small wok or deep frying pan.
  • Add the flat disk, pushing down the dough lightly with a spatula so that it remains submerged in oil. It will start to rise and once a large bubble has formed, flip the disk over to the other side until it has a golden-brown color.  If the dough starts to brown too quickly, lower the heat.
  • Remove and place on kitchen paper to absorb excess oil.

Note: Serve Batura with chickpea curry or with any dish that has a sauce.

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Welsh Rarebit: A Becoming Fit between Grilled Cheese and Eggs Benedict

The week ending April 18th holds two perennial favorite comfort food days – April 12th, National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day and April 16th, Eggs Benedict Day. I could cover both food events with one delicious savory dish, Welsh rabbit or Welsh rarebit.

I used to picture Welsh rabbit as a dish with a small animal in a creamy sauce, and so using its other name, Welsh rarebit, sits better with me. The dish includes many of the food creations from the British Isles – tangy Guinness stout, tart Cheddar cheese, vinegary Worcestershire sauce, and pungent English mustard powder (in that familiar yellow tin). All of the ingredients are mixed with egg yolk, liberally slathered on a hunk of country bread, and broiled. The resulting creamy and substantial dish is a cinch to prepare, while combining in one swoop all of the major comfort foods: bread, cheese, butter, and eggs.

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Welsh Rarebit

Bread (sturdy country loaf) – four chunky slices

Butter – 1½ tbsp

Cheddar cheese (such as Welsh reserve) – ¾ – 1 cup, freshly grated

Mustard powder – ¾ tsp

Paprika – ¼ tsp

Stout (such as Guinness) – 2 tbsp

Worcestershire Sauce – ½ tbsp

Egg yolks – 2, beaten

  • Pre-heat the broiler.
  • Melt the butter in a pan on low heat.
  • Add the mustard powder and paprika to the melting butter. Stir and mix well.
  • Add the stout and the Worcestershire sauce. Stir to mix.
  • Add the grated cheese to the pan, stirring continuously to incorporate into the mixture. Do not let it come to a boil.
  • Remove the pan from the fire and cool until just warm to the touch.
  • In the meanwhile, place the bread under the broiler and broil both sides. Remove.
  • Add the egg yolks to the warm pan and beat until you get a smooth, spreadable mixture.
  • Spread the mixture over the broiled bread and place the bread back under the broiler. Cook for a minute or until the cheese-egg mixture starts to brown and bubble.
  • Serve immediately. There should be enough egg-cheese mixture to top four slices.

 

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Injera: Communal Meal (Part 3)

Blogging about communal meals (cheese fondue and shabu shabu) made me aware of the importance of the main cooking pot: The flavors developed here enhance the taste of the accompaniments. In Ethiopian cuisine, the central “pot” is injera bread, which is both the dish that holds the accompaniments as well as part of the meal itself. Breaking bread becomes a communal experience as pieces of injera are torn to scoop up the side dishes that are piled in small mounds on the bread platter.

Injera is made from an ancient gluten-free grain called teff. Teff flour batter is fermented overnight and gives injera its characteristic sour taste. The cooked pancake-shaped spongy bread balances, both literally and figuratively, an assortment of cooked vegetables, lentils, and meat. Side dishes range from lightly spiced to the richly spiced flavors aided by the spice blend, berbere (pronounced burr-burr-ee). Berbere gives the meat stew (wot) and red lentil sauce its rich red color and complexity. Depending on family or regional traditions, there are at least 8-10 different spices in the berbere blend.

Proper etiquette requires that you eat with your fingers, working your way from the edges of the injera toward the middle. This has a practical aspect since the soft spongy center soaks up the sauce from the stew by the end of the meal.

Doro Wot – Chicken Stew

Oil or niter kibeh (spiced clarified butter or ghee) – 4-5 tbsp

Onion – 2 large, chopped finely

Garlic cloves – 6, peeled and minced

Ginger – 2-inch peeled and minced

Chicken –1 lb, washed

Berbere powder – 2 tbsp

Tomatoes – 2, chopped

Salt – 1 tsp

Boiled eggs – 2 (optional)

  • Heat the oil in a pan.
  • Add the onions and cook on low for about 10 minutes, until cooked down
  • Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat. Process the cooked onions, garlic and ginger in a food processor, until it becomes a fine paste.
  • Add the paste back to the pan and continue with the cooking.
  • Add the berbere powder and sauté for one minute.
  • Add the tomatoes and incorporate into the mixture.
  • Add the chicken. Cover and cook on low for 15-20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked.
  • Add the boiled egg during the last five minutes of cooking, so that it will absorb the flavors.

Misir Wot – Red Lentil Stew

Oil or niter kibeh (spiced clarified butter or ghee) – 3-4 tbsp

Red lentils – 1 ½ cups, cleaned until water runs clear

Onion – 1 medium, chopped finely

Garlic cloves – 8, peeled and minced

Berbere powder – 1-1/2 tbsp

Tomatoes – 2, chopped

Salt – 1 tsp

  • Heat a pan with oil.
  • Add the onions and cook on low for about 10 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the berbere spice powder and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and cook them until incorporated with the contents in the pan.
  • Remove from heat and process them to a fine paste.
  • Add the paste back into the pan and bring the contents to a simmer.
  • Add the lentils to the paste. Mix well, and add  3 cups of water.
  • Cook on low heat, until lentils are soft, about 15-20 minutes. Add more liquid as needed, but the consistency of the lentil stew should be thick such that it can be scooped up with injera.

If you do not want to make all the accompaniments, make one meat or lentil dish with berbere spice and keep the rest of the accompaniments easy – such as a simple steamed greens or salad.

Suggested Accompaniments:

Red Lentil Stew

Ethiopian Green Salad

Marinated Beet and Potato Salad

Collard Greens

Steamed Kale

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Note: This time I used store-bought injera for convenience. I am planning to include a recipe as part of a series on fermented breads.

 

I was introduced to the three communal meals, the inspirations for the last few blog posts, by my friends (cheese fondue and shabu shabu) and relatives who had lived and worked in Ethiopia (injera). I would love to hear from you about your personal favorite communal meals.

A Gluten-Free Carbohydrate: Cassava Flour and Tapioca Pearls. Part 2

Last week while cooking my favorite root tuber, cassava, I learned that cassava flour (made from cassava starch) is gluten-free. The starch that is extracted from the cassava root is available in two forms – fine white flour or opaque tapioca pearls. When American families and friends with disparate tastes and food allergies gather around the Thanksgiving table, cassava flour and pearls can be incorporated in the meal to include those with gluten sensitivity to the table. The flour and pearls can be used to make cheese bread and dessert (tapioca pudding and falooda), offering simple substitutions to long-established menus.

Gluten is a protein found in grains that give dough its elasticity and bread its texture. Sensitivity to gluten or celiac disease prohibits foods made with many of the traditional grains, such as wheat and rye. Cassava flour is a good alternate for making bread, pancakes, or to thicken gravy. South Americans use cassava flour to make a cheese bread called Pao de Queijo and Chipa – deliciously cheesy with a pleasant chewy bite.

 

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Cheese Bread (Brazil)

Cassava flour – 2 cups

Whole milk – 1 cup

Vegetable oil – ½ cup

Salt – ¾ tsp

Egg – 2, beaten

Parmesan cheese – 1 ½ cup

  • Set the oven to 400°F.
  • Add all the ingredients, except for the cheese, in a large bowl.
  • Mix them together to form dough.
  • Fold in the cheese to the dough mixture.
  • Drop a tablespoon of the dough at a time on to a nonstick pan.
  • Cook the dough balls for 15-20 minutes.

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Tapioca Pudding and Falooda are two easy desserts that use tapioca pearls, the starch made from the cassava root. The pearls are available in a range of diameters (1mm to 6mm) and colors (brown, white, and black). Tapioca pearls need to be soaked in water or cooked in milk to rehydrate them. When cooked in milk, they give tapioca pudding a comforting creamy consistency. The water-soaked tapioca pearls in falooda add a chewy morsel in an otherwise rich and milky South Asian dessert.

 

Tapioca Pudding

Whole milk – 3 cups

Eggs – 2, beaten

Tapioca Pearls (white) – ½ cup

Sugar – ½ cup

Salt – ¼ tsp

Vanilla/rose/cinnamon essence – 1 tsp

  • Mix the whole milk, tapioca pearls and salt in a saucepan and bring it slowly to a boil. Stir continuously so tapioca mixes and thickens as it cooks.
  • When the milk starts to boil, turn the heat down. Add sugar slowly, while stirring continuously so it dissolves.
  • Remove from heat and let the thickened mixture cool for a minute.
  • Add the beaten egg into the mixture (watch it doesn’t curdle).
  • Bring the mixture back to a simmer and let it thicken, about five minutes.
  • Add the essence.
  • Dessert can be eaten warm or cold. Top with berries.

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Falooda

Milk – 1 cup

Translucent noodles (vermicelli) – 1 oz.

Tapioca pearls (black) – 2 tbsp.

Strawberry or raspberry jelly – 1 packet

Rose syrup – 1 tbsp

Vanilla ice cream –1 small tub

  • Make the jelly according to the instructions on the packet
  • Soak the tapioca pearls in water for half-hour to rehydrate them.
  • Cook the noodles according to the instructions on the packet or until soft.
  • Add the drained noodles to half a cup of milk and simmer for five minutes.
  • Have all the ingredients near at hand to assemble the dessert. Keep layers separate for a colorful display. In a tall glass, start with a layer of jelly, followed by the noodles and a tablespoon of milk, 1 tablespoon of tapioca pearls, and two scoops of ice cream. Finally, drizzle  the rose syrup over the ice cream. Serve immediately.

 

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Unleavened Breads – Matzo, Flour Tortilla, Chapatti – Easier Than Expected!

N. didn’t run the Boston Marathon this year as she did in 2013, and so I didn’t get to visit Boston and support the runners. I missed hearing Bostonians, who came out stronger than ever, cheering on runners and their city; and I missed eating the famous creamy “chowda,” made with juicy, plump clams and topped with herb-scented oyster crackers.

I often wondered how the crackers, which do not contain oysters, came to be associated with chowder. As it turns out, the popular clam chowder had its beginnings as humble fish chowder. Fish chowder, like fish soup, included the catch of the day along with vegetables and leftovers that were also thrown into the cooking pot. Oyster crackers, or ship’s biscuit as they were also called, were used to thicken the chowder. Oyster crackers were made with flour and water and used no leavening agent (yeast or other agents that causes flour to rise), which meant that the crackers would remain fresh on long voyages. Old recipes don’t change completely, but instead, they adapt to what could be sourced locally. In New England, clams were available cheaply as were the cream and potatoes, which became the new thickening agents. The oyster crackers now serve as decorative crunchy elements.

Oyster crackers are comparative newcomers to the field of unleavened foods. Unleavened bread was the theme of last week’s Passover and Eucharist meals. When my friend shared her homemade matzo recipe (commenting how easy it was to make), I looked into the three unleavened breads that could be made at home with the most basic of ingredients: flour, water, salt, and oil. Matzo or matza, flour tortilla and chapatti (or roti) are all unleavened bread or flatbreads. (Note all flatbreads are not unleavened breads.)

You do not require special equipment, just a spoon to toss the compacted packaged flour to let some air into it and elbow grease (really your knuckles or base of your palm) to knead the dough. The dough is flattened to a disc with a rolling pin, and cooked in an oven (matza) or on a preheated skillet or griddle for the other two breads. It is as simple as that, and as a bonus, does not take up much time either.

Matzo Bread

Matzo is traditionally made with one of five grains, and follows strict guidelines if you make it for religious purposes. This version, using all-purpose flour, is an easy way to make a cracker-like snack. Matzo can be added to a soup or eaten with a dip.

All-purpose flour – 1 cup, plus 1tbsp.

Water – ¼ cup

Kosher salt – ¼ tsp.

Olive oil – 1 tsp.

  • Preheat the oven to 450°F.
  • Sieve the flour.
  • Mix the first three ingredients together, until they are well incorporated and form a ball.
  • Work in the oil. Knead lightly.
  • Spread the extra flour on a clean counter top.
  • Take a small amount of the dough and roll it out on the flour-dusted surface into a disk. Flatten the dough with a rolling pin to about the size of a water cracker.
  • Place it on a baking pan lined with foil. Poke the dough with a fork in several places. This allows the steam to escape and cook uniformly.
  • Cook for about 4 minutes on each side for a slightly soft center (more if you want it crispy).

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Flour Tortilla

I never thought I would go through the trouble of making flour tortillas, especially as they are readily available in convenient packages. Usually made with specially treated maize flour or corn, this is an all-purpose or wheat flour version. You will re-think  buying store-bought ones after trying this! I made these tortillas with both lard (new to me, given all the health warnings) and butter. Given that you will likely eat only a few at each meal, each tortilla was worth its calories: the taste was soft and flaky, and better still, there are no additives. To my surprise, the version with lard tasted better.

All-purpose flour – 2 cups, plus 1tbsp.

Water – ¼ cup of warm water

Kosher salt – ¾ tsp.

Vegetable oil – 1 tsp.

Lard (or butter) – 4 oz. at room temperature

  • Sieve the flour.
  • Mix the flour, salt, and lard (butter) together, until they are well incorporated.
  • Add water to the mixture. Knead the dough, until your can roll into one big, smooth ball. Cover with saran wrap and keep aside for at least an hour.
  • Preheat the griddle.
  • Spread the extra flour on a clean counter top.
  • Take a small amount of the dough and roll it out on the flour-dusted surface into a disk. Flatten the dough with a rolling pin to a 6-inch diameter.
  • Place it on a preheated griddle. Allow it to puff up, before flipping it over to the other side. It should have warm brown specks on the surface.

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Chapatti

This simple bread is made daily in India and neighboring countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal as well as Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa and the Caribbean. Chapatti is eaten with meat, lentils and vegetables. It can be cooked on a griddle or cooked directly over the flame of a gas stove. If you prefer less dense bread, add a ¼ cup of all-purpose flour to the whole-wheat flour.

Whole-wheat flour – 1 cup, plus 1-2 tbsp.

Water – ¼ cup of warm water

Salt – ½ tsp.

Vegetable oil (ghee) – 1 tsp.

  • Sieve the flour.
  • Mix the flour, salt, and water together, until they are well incorporated.
  • Add the oil to the mixture. Knead the dough, until your can roll into one big, smooth ball.
  • Cover with a damp kitchen cloth and keep aside for a half-hour.
  • Preheat the griddle.
  • Spread the extra flour on a clean counter top.
  • Take a small amount of the dough and roll it out on the flour-dusted surface into a disk. Flatten the dough with a rolling pin to a 6-inch diameter.
  • Place it on a preheated griddle. Allow it to puff up with little bubbles, before flipping it over to the other side. It should have dark brown specks on its surface.
  • Continue with the rest of the dough.

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