Portabella n Colby Buns with Birdseye Chillies

It’s been way too long since my last post, and even longer since I baked, so naturally I was raring to go and recover lost ground. Besides there”s only that much commercially produced bread a girl can eat before her stomach begins to talk back, and I wasn’t going to wait for that to happen. But special occasions call for special treats and my bakers brain went into high-gear… hmmmm… what could I do that I hadn’t done before.

Using fresh ingredients is always a priority so I was thrilled when I saw this pack of little Portabellas sitting on the shelf in the grocery section of the supermarket.

That did it, I knew I had a recipe brewing in there somewhere. And then I spotted Colby Cheese. Now Colby is sort of like Cheddar, just more elastic and with a more neutral taste. Kind of like a mild Cheddar on a Trampoline. Perfect for pairing with my Portabellas, since I wanted those little beauties to shine through, with the cheese providing an accent, just that subtle bit of flavouring and mild richness to the bread that I finally decided on baking.

Birds-eye chillies completed the trinity and that was it. A recipe was born…

So back to the Portabellas, and do remember to wipe them clean of any grit with a wet towel, then pat them dry and slice’ em as thin as you can.

The reason… you don’t want any extra moisture retention. Mushrooms have a way with moisture, so you want to slice ’em as thin as you can and fry them on high heat with a 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil with a teaspoonful of butter. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt, so that any water hiding in those babies leaches out and catches the heat. Sizzle….. sssss…

But wait… before you add in the mushrooms to the oil n butter, fry the de-seeded and sliced birds-eye chillies. I used 4 chillies, but you can reduce the quantity if you like it milder.

WARNING: Wash, Re-wash and re-re-wash your hands after you handle the chillies. I washed my hands twice but then ended up touching my chin, and woah! So yeah, scrub your hands well, very, very well after handling those little critters. They’re tiny, but they’re dynamite.

Fry the mushrooms on high, stirring constantly, before sprinkling on the salt and a teaspoonful of freshly milled pepper. I used a melange of peppercorns; pink, green, white and black…

Once the mushrooms are fried and browned, take ’em off the flame and keep them aside to cool. Meanwhile activate the yeast, about 10 -11gms of fresh yeast in 1/2 cup of tepid water, with a 1/2 teaspoon of sugar just to get things moving. In a separate bowl, sift 2 cups of flour and add it to the activated yeast, with a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil. Knead the flour to a dough, then add in the mushrooms and cheese. You may need to add another 1/4 cup of flour and knead for about 10 minutes to a lovely soft dough.

Place the dough into an oiled bowl and drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil over the dough. Then cover with cling wrap and leave to prove for about 2 hours till the dough more than doubles in size.

Once the dough has risen, knock it back and turn it out onto a floured surface for a second quick knead before rolling it out into a log.

Because I wanted larger buns I portioned the log into just 7 pieces and shaped them into rounds. Covered them with muslin and left them to prove for another 45 – 50 minutes, brushing them with eggwash, dusting them with paprika and grating some extra Colby on top just before baking.Bake them in a 230° C preheated oven for 20 minutes. (Btw… I sprayed the inside of the oven a couple of times with water while the buns were baking for that crunchy crusty top I love. But that’s a matter of choice.)

Transfer the buns onto a wire rack to cool completely. Or better still, do what I did. Slice into one while it’s still warm, slather on some butter and enjoy. before dispatching the buns straight to YeastSpotting.

It has been a while.

Honey Rye Bread with Mixed Seeds

Who doesn’t love a seed bread… with sunflower or pumpkin seeds, or even some sesame or flax seeds. And what better way to do them justice than to let them mix n mingle with each other in keeping with the season… letting them all come together in a delicious loaf using wholegrain rye flour and honey. I also love the flavour of aniseed, so I put in a spoonful… lightly toasting the mélange of seeds.

This bread is really versatile, with the rye flour and seeds, and the honey and brown sugar coming together to make this loaf truly delicious and nutritious.

Here are the ingredients –

1 cup wholegrain rye flour

2 ½ cups all purpose flour

3 teaspoons packed brown sugar

2 teaspoons fresh yeast

1 ½ cups warm water

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons honey (you can add an additional tablespoon or two if you like)

Assorted seed mix –

{2 tablespoons – assorted mix of sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds

2 tablespoons – flax seeds

1 tablespoon – aniseed}

So yeah as always when you’re making a yeast bread – activate the yeast with some sugar and warm water and allow to stand for 15 minutes. Adding in the oil and the honey and stir to blend.

Toast the mixed seeds in a pan for 4 – 5 minutes, tossing them constantly to ensure even toasting. Then remove the seeds from the pan and transfer to a kitchen towel to cool, and get back to the yeast mix. Adding in the all purpose and rye flour, and the salt, and mixing them, before adding in the cooled seed mix towards the end.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. Then transfer to a lightly oiled bowl and leave to prove for 4 – 6 hours or till the dough has more than doubled in size.

Turn the dough, which should be fully aerated and light and puffy onto a lightly floured work surface…

Knead for 5 minutes, then cut the dough into 2 portions and shape into loaves or place into a cornmeal dusted bread-pan. Leave standing for an additional hour or two to prove again.

Take a sharp knife or a blade and score the top of the loaf down the middle and bake in a preheated oven at 200 degrees C for 25 – 30 minutes or till done. You can cover the top with a tented piece of aluminium foil halfway through the baking process to prevent the top from getting brown and crusty too soon. Brush the top of the loaf with olive oil and bake for an additional 5 minutes uncovered to allow the top of the loaf to brown and develop a nice crust.

I used half the dough to make the loaf and saved the other half to make some Figgy Rye Rolls – using a fig preserve I made… I just had to make something figgy for Christmas.

And as I said earlier this bread is so versatile you can eat it with a pat of butter, or with something sweet… some of that fig preserve perhaps.

Or even with something savoury… like these red wine braised chicken livers.

Either way… it’s a winner.

Onion Crusty Bread

There’s nothing as heavenly as the aroma of bread baking in the oven… except perhaps for the scent of wet earth when the skies open to bring forth the first rains of the monsoon in India…but then again, with bread, you get to take in not just the aroma, but the first bite of warm goodness, slathered in butter… or even on its own. It doesn’t really matter when it’s fresh off the oven. It tastes divine any way.

I’ve been dying to bake crusty bread for ages but was a bit apprehensive about it turning out right. The ‘what ifs’ started invading my thoughts and managed to put a damper on my usual enthusiasm till I finally decided to shrug it off. What’s the worst that could happen I though when the braves revisited… a clump of yeasty smelling raw dough or perhaps a big hunk of rock… and then I would start again.

So I got right down to it and decided to go all out and not just make Crusty Bread but an Onion Crusty Bread with fried onions. I had a packet of fried onions in my refrigerator and figured I’d use them instead of going through the entire chop, fry, drain n dry process.

It’s also important when baking bread to use yeast that is isn’t outdated, whether you’re using instant dry yeast or fresh yeast (I used fresh yeast).

All it takes is flour, yeast and salt (1 teaspoon salt should be good for 2 1/2 cups of flour… I also added in a pinch of sugar to get things moving)

Proving the dough is an important process… so don’t skimp on the time. I left the dough sitting for about 5 hours before kneading it again and shaping it into loaves…

Then left the loaves to sit for an a couple of hours before baking them in a 220 – 230 degree Celsius oven for approximately 30 minutes covered… and 15 – 20 minutes uncovered.Removed the loaves from the oven… placed them on a wire rack to cool a bit… brushed off the excess flour…

And cut myself a nice slice… slathered on the butter while it was still warm… And… It was heavenly!

I suppose fortune does favour the brave! 

Cheesy Herbed Focaccia with Sun-Dried Tomatoes

I suppose my love for bread comes from being Goan, and having experienced the joys of beautifully baked bread whenever we visited Goa during our yearly summer vacations. From the basic Pao and Poee (Poi) to the Bakri and the ring shaped Kanconn, to the numerous varieties that the village ‘poder’ or baker delivered to our doorstep morning and noon, just in time for breakfast and tea. Every one of those loaves of bread so distinct, so full of flavour, and still warm, they dance around the edges of my tongue and my mind as I relive those memories… So many varieties, I can’t recall all their names.

Even back home, Bandra where I grew up was dotted with numerous Irani and the odd Goan bakery or two that made both the soft pao and its crustier cousin the brun pao. None of those packed loaves of the flavourless sliced variety, sitting encased in plastic bags, waiting, characterless and forlorn for someone to pick them up from the corner store made it to our table, at least not very often.

I’ve always wanted to bake delicious bread… forming it into loaves, shaping it… my love for clay and working with it made me figure that it wouldn’t be such a difficult task. And despite being a fine art, the process is really quite simple, with the easiest of ingredients… flour, water, salt and yeast… in some cases without the yeast. All it takes is love and a pair of caring hands.

And then comes what’s known as artisan bread… which is really nothing but small batches of focaccia, ciabatta, country loaves, sour-dough and baguettes among others, all hand-crafted and at times combined with an array of scrumptious ingredients, ranging from cheese (Parmesan, Cheddar or Mozarella to name a few) to sun-dried tomatoes, caramelised onions, or even the finest olives… the list is endless.

Traditionally artisan bread is made in old-fashioned masonry ovens, but even a tiny regular home oven can produce the most amazing loaves of bread, and it isn’t all that difficult to make.

Here’s a Cheesy Herbed Focaccia with Sun-Dried Tomatoes. I had the sun-dried tomatoes sitting in rosemary and garlic  infused olive oil for a week, just to develop a few more flavours and I used both the olive oil and the tomatoes for this recipe along with a generous handful of Parmesan and some parsley while working the dough.

After almost 2 hours of letting the soft elastic dough prove or rise…

Proving the Dough

… I  knocked it back (in a quick punching motion) and worked it a bit before placing it onto the baking tray to sit for an additional twenty to twenty-five minutes (I lined the tray with a bit of oil).

Knocked back... but not out!

Finally stretching out the dough using my fingertips and finishing it up by making a few rapid jabbing motions into the dough to give it that dimpled effect…

All Dimpled!

Brushing the top with olive oil, a generous sprinkling of oregano, chopped rosemary and a bit of rock salt… and it was oven ready…

Snug as a bug!

I took a tip from a Lesley Waters recipe I came across and sprayed the top of the focaccia with water a couple of times to allow it to steam as it baked…

And here it is…

Cheesy Herbed Focaccia with Sun-dried Tomatoes

I wanted to eat it no sooner it was out of the oven, but I turned it onto a rack to cool before slicing it… and wow!