Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Pane Siciliano - We Knead to Bake #24

The new year began with a beautiful bread on the We Knead Bake group. The first bread for 2015 was Pane Siciliano, a semolina bread from Italy. It was exciting for me because there were new elements (for me) involved in this recipe - I'd never made a bread with semolina, and I'd never made a pre-ferment before. What a great way to start the new year - with a chance to broaden my bread making horizons.

The recipe is an easy one but the process takes some time. Ideally you should do it over two days giving the poolish, or in this case, the crescuita, time to develop properly overnight. The Pane Siciliano is traditionally shaped into the Mafalda (snake) or the Occhi di Santa Lucia (Eyes of Santa Lucia). I went with the Mafalda. The resultant loaf wouldn't be winning any prizes in the looks department but this was one delicious bread! And whatever reservations I had about making a bread with semolina simply evaporated as soon as I cut the first slice.

I started the crescuita in the late morning and by the time my dough was ready to prove for the final time it was already a little late. I didn't want to stay up baking till late in the night so I tucked it into the fridge and baked it in time for breakfast the next morning. (in fact, that was another first for me, I think!).

This is Aparna's recipe for the Pane Siciliano which I followed with a couple of minor variations.

Pane Siciliano

For the Crescuita (pre ferment)

1/4 cup warmed water
1/2 tsp Instant Yeast
1/4 cup plain flour

To make the crescuita simple dissolve the yeast in the warmed water. Once it froths stir in the flour and dissolve gently with a fork or whisk. Cover the bowl with a loose lid or napkin and leave it to ferment overnight. If you've forgotten to do this the night before simply start it as early as you can and let it sit for at least 4 to 6 hours. Mine was left for around 6 hours.

For the Dough

the crescuita
1/2 tsp Instant yeast
1 cup warm water
2 tsp honey
2 to 2 1/2 cups barik sooji or fine semolina, ground fine
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp sesame seeds
water for brushing

Once again, bloom the yeast. Dissolve the honey in the warm water and add the yeast in. Wait for it to froth. Though I use instant yeast I still like to bloom it just to ensure it is still active. Do this in a large mixing bowl so you have fewer things to wash once you're done.

Once the yeast solution has frothed add 2 cups of the ground semolina and mix well to form your dough. Add the olive oil and the salt with the semolina flour. You will start with a thick batter like consistency. Now keep adding the remaining semolina flour and knead/mix till you have a nice soft dough. I did this in the stand mixer. The final dough should be 'just short of sticky'.

Form into a ball and leave it to rise in a well oiled bowl covered with a damp tea towel. The dough should double in volume and this will take anything from an hour and a half to two hours.

Prepare your baking pan while you're waiting. All you need is the baking sheet/pan and some baking parchment. Cut a large piece of the paper, enough to cover the pan, and you're ready. Place the paper on the pan and spread it to cover the entire surface. You will be placing the ready loaf on this before popping it in to bake.

Once doubled, punch it down gently and take it out onto your work surface to shape into the Mafalda. I like to lightly dust the surface with flour so the dough doesn't stick. Knead the dough very lightly for a bare minute and then roll it into a long rope/cylinder. You will need it to be at least two and a half feet long so you can shape a proper snake with enough coils and enough tail to place on the coils.

Shape the mafalda and then leave it to rise for another couple of hours or until double. I did this stage overnight in the fridge. I covered the bread with a damp towel again to prevent it from dehydrating in the fridge - a hazard of our frost free refrigerators.

Brush the risen loaf with water and sprinkle sesame seeds all over the surface. Pat gently and make them stick.

Preheat the oven at 190C. Set a tray upside down in the oven and let it heat up with the oven. Once ready place your tray with the Pane Siciliano on top of the hot tray. Bake the bread for around 30 minutes till the crust turns brown.

Cool the loaf completely before you slice it. Enjoy your Pane Siciliano! We had ours with butter, cheese spread and even jam.

Marathon Bloggers

Monday, January 26, 2015

Monday Morning Treasure Hunt

The husband came home last night with a tantalising proposition - I'm going to take you to this shop. It's full of stuff you will love. Of course there was a caveat. I couldn't ask any questions about the shop or what it sold.

Now while it was music to my ears it qas also torture not having any clue about this wonderful shop! I asked if we could go the very next morning and the much amused hubby agreed. I  tried wheedling information out of him but had very little luck - all he said was " it's not ingredients". I had no choice but to wait. Sigh!

I booked us a cab for 7am and we set out for South Mumbai. We picked up our car from our Mazgaon workshop and headed towards Grant road. It was early morning and there were knots of school children all dressed up for Republic Day parades. Loud speakers blared patriotic songs from Hindi movies. I was totally charged up waiting excitedly to reach this mystery shop.

And suddenly we were there! A raddi shop! People come and dispose of household junk, old newspapers, plastic ware, etc, in return for a small cash payment. The shop had crates of old china, glassware, wooden bits and pieces, a couple of ugly marble sculptures ans many other odds and ends.
And among all this were a few brass things that were out of someone's kitchen. My eyes popped! A brass tiffin carrier! A footed grater with a coconut scraper, and a tea strainer caught my eye. It was love at first sight! A short sharp session of quick bargaining and I was the proud owner of all three beauties!

The hubby had seen this shop yesterday as he drove past. He noticed the grater hanging in the shop and knew this shop would have treasures for me.

I HAVE married really well, haven't I?!

Marathon Bloggers

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Challah - A Bread and a Milestone

I've just treated myself to a beautiful wooden chopping board that I bought from 42 Design Studio. A lovely paddle shaped board with beautiful wood grain, I lost my heart when I first saw the photos on Facebook. I promptly ordered one for myself already imagining the photos I would take with this beauty as a prop!

Finally it arrived and I couldn't wait to use it. I thought a nice loaf of bread would be perfect to inaugurate the board.

I wanted to make something I hadn't tried before and I wanted something that would be fitting for such a lovely addition to my blogging toys. Yes, that's what they are - toys that we bloggers play with :)

Once I started getting more interested in homemade bread I did what most of us do - joined a couple of interest groups on Facebook. I looked in the files of one of the groups and read a few recipes till I found one that I felt confident enough to tackle and had the ingredients ready and available. I was going to make a Challah - a Jewish bread that's pretty to look at and is usually eaten on the Sabbath and on other special days. In fact, there are versions of this bread all across Europe.

I gathered the ingredients, cleaned my work space thoroughly, and set out to make my Challah. Things went wrong right from the outset. Though my yeast bloomed perfectly and I followed the instructions to the T there was no dough - just a big bowl of paste, or batter if you want to be more polite. I gave it more time to rise, since the initial steps were new to me, thinking that the cold weather was probably affecting things. Eventually I realised this wasn't working and I wasn't going to be able to do this bread by hand.

I cranked up the Kitchen Aid and poured the batter (!) into the mixer bowl. I dug out my flour canister and got ready to attempt to turn the batter into dough. I thought I needed to just add a little, bit by bit, and all would be well. It wasn't. The batter remained a batter and eventually I started flinging in fistfuls of flour instead of measured tablespoons. After adding as much flour as the recipe originally asked for I finally came close to a dough. It was still sticky but at least it wasn't pouring consistency!

I came back to my work area, floured the surface and plonked the dough on. A few minutes of hand kneading with generous lashings of more flour, and I finally had what I thought was a satisfactory dough.

I buttered a large, no huge, bowl and set the dough to rise. It doubled in half the prescribed time. I had no idea what was going on! But hey, it was supposed to double and it had done that. I wasn't arguing.

The dough was duly punched down and left to rest for 10 minutes as prescribed. It rose ominously in those 10 minutes. By now I was frazzled and not thinking quite clearly. I forgot I had doubled the flour and therefore ended up with a lot more dough than I should have. Ideally I should have halved the dough and probably frozen half. But I don't yet know for sure what dough can be refrigerated/frozen and what can't. But I did divide the dough, into two parts, just not equal ones.

I proceeded to further divide the bigger lump into three portions, rolled each portion into ropes and then made a simple basic three strand braid. It was rising as I was making the ropes an then braiding. It was like a dough possessed.

Anyway, I brushed it with an egg wash and put the braid into my biggest and only deep baking pan, lined with baking parchment. I left it to prove and proceeded to make a braid with the smaller lump of dough too. In the few minutes that it took me to make the second braid the first one had grown alarmingly fat.  I kept an eye on it and put it in to bake as soon as it had doubled. It certainly didn't take the 45 minutes it was supposed to.

Seeing how fast the dough was rising I shoved the smaller braid into the fridge so that it would go slower. I had to bake the big one and I couldn't take a chance with the smaller one turning into another giant loaf.

I could have wept with relief when I popped the big braid into the oven to bake. The recipe didn't say what temperature to bake at. I wanted to fling something at someone. Anyone. I took a chance and set the oven to preheat at 160 and then baked at the same for around 35-40 minutes. Just before putting the braid into the oven I brushed with egg again and sprinkled poppy seeds on the loaf.

I could have wept again when out emerged what looked like a perfectly baked Challah. Okay, it wasn't that beautiful, nutty brown, but otherwise it looked quite good. Just a tad pale and a little gargantuan. Well, actually it was ridiculously huge! The hubby is confident there's enough in that one loaf to last us a week.

Thank God for the smaller one. It turned out beautifully. And it's the perfect size for my board! Alls well that ends well, a few hissy fits notwithstanding :)

I'm sharing what I think will be a successful recipe for a Challah keeping in mind all the adjustments I made. I'm quite clueless why the dough chose to rise at such a speed but fortunately the bread turned out quite fine. This recipe will give you two loaves.


1 kilo maida or plain white flour
1 tsp salt
600ml warm water
2 tsp instant yeast
2 tbsp honey
3 heaped tsp butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
1 egg yolk for glazing
2 -3 tsp poppy seeds

In a jug or bowl bloom the yeast in the warmed water. Stir with a spoon and leave it alone for a few minutes.

In a big mixing bowl stir the salt into the white flour. Once the yeast is bubbling get ready to mix it into the flour. Push the dry flour to the sides of the bowl to make a well and pour the yeast solution in. Mix in just enough flour to make a paste in the middle leaving dry flour around. Cover and leave the flour paste to bubble up. This should take around 20 minutes.

Once the flour paste has bubbled add the melted butter, honey and beaten eggs into the paste and mix. Gather in the dry flour from the sides and combine to make a soft dough. (Since the proportions in the recipe I followed were wrong this step worked very differently for me and I had to add flour endlessly to get a dough). You can either knead this dough by hand on your work surface or you can do it in a stand mixer if you have one. Work the dough for around 10 minutes till it's soft and elastic, and not sticky any more.

Put it in a large greased bowl, cover with a damp napkin and leave it to rise. Depending on the yeast, the weather, and the various bread gods, this should take anything from an hour to two hours.

While the dough is rising watch a few videos on YouTube to see braiding techniques. There are simple 3 strand braids and there are many more beautiful, but complicated braids that you can also try. With two loaves guaranteed, it won't hurt to try two different braids.

Punch the dough down and give it a quick and gentle knead. Let it rest for a few minutes.

Divide the dough into two halves. Make 3 portions or more with each half, roll each portion into a rope and braid into a loaf. Brush with the egg yolk to which you add a little water. Just a teaspoon or so. Bread expert Sujit Sumitran shared this little tip saying the yolk and water mix will give you that lovely dark brown classic challah colour.

Leave the braids to prove and double. If your dough is rising too fast just pop it into the fridge. It will rise slower.

Preheat the oven to 160C and then bake your challah till it sounds hollow when you tap it. 40 minutes or so is what it takes to get there. If your oven has space to do one at a time you can leave the waiting braid in the fridge. Don't forget to take it out 10 minutes before you put it to bake.

Let the bread cool completely before you slice it. You can also pull chunks off the loaf using the folds of the braid to guide you.

The reason I'm not halving this recipe is because I found that the basic error in the original recipe was the ratio of flour to water. I don't know if there was too much water or too little flour. So till I figure that out I'm going to be making two challahs whenever I make them :)

This experience was a milestone for me. Today I realised that I do understand bread. I was able to make a good bread in spite of what seemed to me a flawed recipe. I am proud of me :)

Marathon Bloggers 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Alu, Phulkopi Diye Machhe'r Jhol - Bengali Fish Stew with Potatoes and Cauliflower

Once in a way the Hubby asks me to cook a Bengali dish. This morning as we were in our local fish shop he bought a baby Bhetki and asked for a light and comforting alu, phulkopi'r jhol with a mountain of hot rice to be made for lunch. I used to call this 'jeere'r jhol' and one version or another of this simple preparation was made in my grandmother's kitchen and in those of all her sisters.

The fish was usually rui, a kind of river carp, and the vegetables in the stew would vary - there could be brinjals, pointed gourd or potol, plantain, and of course, cauliflower. The potato was omnipresent in all the versions. In winter when good cauliflower was available, the alu phulkopi diye jhol would appear quite frequently on the table.

As with most Bengali dishes, I had to do a little reading just to reassure myself of the basic recipe. Some recipes are so simple, and have such few ingredients they make you feel sure you've left something out! This was exactly the case today and though I was quite sure how this lovely, light jhol is made, I just had  to check anyway.

Alu, Phulkopi Diye Machhe'r Jhol

I don't claim this to be an authentic or traditional Bengali recipe. This is my version based mostly on my memories of eating it at my Didin's (maternal grandmom) house, and occasionally at our own house in Mumbai.

1/2 kilo bhekti (or any other suitable fish), sliced
1 small cauliflower, broken into florets
2 medium potatoes, cut into long wedges
2 fresh green chillies
1/2 inch piece ginger
1/2 tsp nigella seeds or kalonji
1/4 tsp randhuni (optional)
1 tsp cumin or jeera powder
mustard oil

Wash the fish slices, drain and then marinate with salt and turmeric. Leave it aside while you prep the vegetables.

Heat some mustard oil in a largeish wok and fry the fish lightly till the fish just turns opaque. I prefer this lightly fried version over the darker more firmly fried version. You can fry the fish more if you prefer. Remove the fried fish to a plate or vessel and then lightly fry the cauliflower and the potatoes in the same oil, one after the other. You might need to add a little oil along the way. Remove the fried vegetables too.

Now add some oil and wait till it is heated up really well. Chuck in the green chillies, nigella, and randhuni seeds. Stir for a minute and return the fried vegetables to the wok. Add the jeera powder and stir well to mix. Grate in the ginger. Add a little turmeric powder and salt too. Add a generous glass full of water, enough to submerge the vegetables. Bring to a boil and then cover and cook on simmer till the vegetables are nearly cooked.

Slide in the fried fish pieces and let the whole thing simmer for another 3 or 4 minutes. Adjust salt if necessary and remove the jhol carefully into a wide mouthed large serving bowl. Serve hot with rice.

As you can see it's a simple, frugal recipe with no elaborate procedures or fancy ingredients. Yet, it is a delicious and flavourful dish that's made in households across Bengal. I'm happy to say the hubby enjoyed it thoroughly. As for me, I was back in our flat in Bandra, sitting at the dining table squabbling with my brother, being scolded by my parents - back to being a 10 year old demanding the 'lyaja' or the tail piece :)

Marathon Bloggers

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Chocolate Fudge Cookies - A Sweet Beginning for a New Year

In the years when I bought cook books like a woman possessed I bought one called The Colossal Cookie Cookbook. It sat among the other books and I always felt a thrill of joy seeing on my shelf anticipating the wonderful cookies I would make from it. I guess we get caught up in the anticipating and forget to actually make time to really use the books and the treasure of recipes within. I did make a recipe or two but then got caught up in other stuff and the book sat on the shelf, though not gathering dust because I am devoted to my books and I like to take good care of them :)

Sometime around November I saw a frenzy across Facebook where everyone seemed to be baking cookies. I wanted to bake cookies too! I surfed the net, like we automatically do these days, and after browsing quite a few sites I suddenly ground to a halt. What was I doing?! I have enough cookbooks to start my own little library - what was I doing searching on the net?

I pulled out The Colossal Cookie Cookbook and, finally made cookies from the book again. I'd shopped over the previous months and had gathered a decent hoard of cookie making ingredients in my pantry. So now there was no excuse left. Chocolate Fudge Cookies were zeroed in upon and what a success they turned out to be!

Chocolate Fudge Cookies

200gms dark cooking chocolate. I used Morde's
1 1/4 cup white flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder. I used Hintz
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
110 gms butter.
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
white chocolate for decoration

Set your oven to 180C and let it preheat.

Melt the cooking chocolate and set aside to cool. You can use a microwave like I did, or a double boiler.

In a clean bowl sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and the salt together.

In a separate bowl cream the sugar with the butter till it's well blended and fluffy. Add the eggs and the vanilla and beat further. You can use an electric hand blender for this. I plan to use my stand mixer the next time and make a double batch.

Pour in the cooled melted chocolate and whisk till it's all mixed in well. Now add the sifted dry ingredients in small quantities and incorporate. The dry ingredients will fly around so do this stage with a spatula or large spoon. You should have a smooth thick batter once everything is mixed in well. Give it a whizz with the electric beater for a minute and you're ready to bake the cookies.

Take two cookie sheets and line with baking parchment. Take a generous scoop of the cookie batter in a tablespoon and drop onto the parchment. Line up the scoops of batter leaving a couple of inches of space between the cookies. They will spread as they bake. You can use a piping bag to make it easier to drop the cookie batter onto the parchment. Use a plain nozzle, the cookies will not hold any fancy shapes.

Bake the cookies in your preheated oven for approximately 18 minutes. Let them cool on the parchment for a minute before you put them on a cooling rack to cool and harden. Don't worry if your cookies seem soft when you remove them from the oven.

Once the cookies have cooled you can decorate them. Melt white chocolate in a bowl and dip a fork into the melted chocolate and drizzle over the cookies. I think melted dark chocolate will also work quite well.

This recipe yielded 16 large cookies. Make a double batch and send some over to your BFF. Spread the love!

Now make a mug of coffee, pick up a few Chocolate Fudge Cookies, grab the book you're reading and settle down in your favourite chair for some delicious me time.