June 28, 2007

I'm outta here

Well, my brief summer vacation is over, and now I'm heading off to work in the field. I'll be working on the Sikyon Survey project, an archaeological project in an area near Corinth, Greece. Of course it won't be all hard work, and I'm hoping to have plenty of time to travel, eat good food, and document these activities, and hopefully share them with you once I'm back home in August. Until then, kali orexi!

Photo by Matt Maher

June 26, 2007

More bread!

Typically, when I attempt to improvise while baking it tends to end in disaster. Which is why I'm so proud of this bread! I've been baking sandwich-type loaves successfully for about a year now, but for whatever reason simpler, "rustic" breads have given me some trouble.

After watching these videos from the fantastic "Baking with Julia" TV series on the making of french bread, I decided to give it a go, despite the lack of a recipe. I used what I felt would be the appropriate amounts of water, flour, yeast, and salt, for one loaf, mixing in the flour until I had what seemed to be the "correct" consistency, let it rise slowly, shaped the loaf using the techniques demonstrated in the video, and baked on a pizza stone at a high temperature until it looked done. And the results were really great. The bread was light but not too airy with a chewy texture and a nice hard, crackly crust. The one thing that was lacking was a depth of flavor. I might try to address this next time by creating a sponge, and perhaps letting the dough rise overnight in the fridge.

I'm not going to post a recipe because a) I didn't measure my ingredients, and b) I have a feeling that this success was somewhat of a fluke, so once I've baked this a few more times and have a recipe I feel confident in, I'll post it.

That being said, I think that a good loaf of bread has as much to do with technique as with ingredients. Some factors that contributed to the success of this loaf were:

-lots of kneading (15-20 min)
-"folding" the dough before the first rising (as demonstrated in the video)
-using less yeast and giving the dough a long rise
-the baking stone
-moisture in the oven during baking (provided by preheating a metal pan in the oven, then just before the bread is added, pouring a cup of water into the pan, thereby creating steam).
-experience: I hadn't realized how much knowledge I'd accumulated over the past year (especially from my failures) about what works and doesn't work in breadmaking. Practice makes perfect (or as close as I'm ever going to get).

June 21, 2007

Whole Wheat Oatmeal-Bulgur Bread

School is done, and while I still have some work to do, the worst is over. I'm spending a lazy few weeks grading exams and preparing for my upcoming trip to Greece (more on that to come). Grading isn't hard, but it's tedious- One can only grade so many undergrad essay exams about Greek mythology at a time before going a bit crazy, especially with writing like this (taken verbatim from an exam):

"Oedipus is the main subject where Freud's 'The Oedipus Complex' comes from which states that as a son one is desiring of sleeping w/his mother and killing his father."

Ugh. So I had to break up the monotony by...baking of course. Bread seemed like a good idea, as it doesn't require a whole lot of work, but still demands constant attention in the form of numerous small tasks, meaning lots of chances to take a break from grading...23 exams down, 27 to go.

Whole Wheat Oatmeal-Bulgur Bread
adapted from The Bread Bible, by Beth Hensperger

Makes 2 loaves

2 tsp instant yeast (or 1 tbsp dry active, proofed in some of the liquid)
2 tbsp brown sugar
2/3 c. bulgur wheat, fine or medium grind
1 1/2 c. warm water
3/4 c. warm milk
2 c. whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat)

1 1/4 c. rolled oats
1/4 c. brown sugar
3 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
1 tbsp salt
3 to 3 1/2 c. unbleached all purpose flour

-Sponge: mix yeast, 2 tbsp brown sugar, bulgur wheat, water, and milk in a large bowl (If using dry active yeast, first proof the yeast in 1/4 cup of the water, then mix with other ingredients). Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

-Dough: Add oats, 1/4 cup brown sugar, salt, and butter to the sponge. Beat until fully incorporated. Add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition, until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. The amount of flour you need will vary depending on a number of factors (for instance, it was so dry here that I used just under 3 cups). It's better to add too little flour than too much- you'll be adding more during the kneading process.

-Kneading: Knead dough on lightly floured surface for about 10 minutes, adding more flour as need to prevent sticking (the dough will remain pretty sticky, though - that's ok).

-1st Rising: Put dough in large greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place dough in warm spot to rise until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

-2nd rising: When dough has doubled in size, turn it onto floured surface and gently press into a rectangular shape. Divide dough into 2 portions. Shape into loaves and place into 2 buttered 8 x 4-inch loaf pans. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise again until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

-Baking: 30 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. When loaves have risen, slash tops of loaves carefully (and shallowly) with a sharp knife. Place loaf pans in center of oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until bread is golden brown. Remove from pans and cool completely on rack before slicing.

Verdict: This was sooooo good. The bulgur wheat gave the crust a nice crunch and the oatmeal almost seemed to dissolve into to bread after baking, giving it a chewy, homey taste and texture. My only complaint is the size of the loaves, a problem I've had with other recipes from this book- the recipe indicates that it makes three 8 x 4-inch loaves, but I ended up with only 2 wee loaves. They still tasted great, of course, so there's no real problem.

June 18, 2007

Rescued Rice Pudding

I love rice pudding. A lot. So much so that last summer, I personally devoured a small Greek village's entire supply of rice pudding. Eating it is no problem. But when it comes to making rice pudding, I must be cursed. My first attempt, several years ago, ended in rice soup. The second time, I thought I'd try a baked pudding, and so I used a recipe for brown rice pudding from New Recipes from the Moosewood Restaurant. This resulted in weird, dry, eggy rice lumps. This time around, when a hankering for rice pudding struck, I felt more confident. I was wiser in the ways of cooking and baking, and was in possession of a seemingly simple, no-fail recipe from a trusted source, Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours.

Alas, it was not to be. Rice soup again - the rice had failed to absorb "80 to 90 percent of the milk", as the recipe said it would, and despite over an hour of cooking, it never thickened, and I was left with a pot of warm milk with some rice floating around in it. I admit, the problem was probably on my end, although my only deviation from the recipe was to use sushi rice instead of arborio (but they're pretty similar, right?), and low-fat instead of whole milk. What went wrong?

Thankfully, I was able to salvage the pudding with the addition of an egg yolk and about 1 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch. In the end, what I was left with was essentially vanilla pudding with rice- but hey, I'll take that. And yes, it tasted much better than it looks in the photograph- please excuse my lack of food photography skills (a temporary problem I hope!).

***9/21/07 Note: I think I may have solved the mystery- Apparently there was a misprint in the book, and cooking time should have been 50 minutes instead of 30. That could explain why the milk wasn't absorbed!

June 14, 2007

Apple Turnovers

Someday I fully intend to attempt to make my own puff pastry, but for now, frozen, store-bought puff pastry is my best friend. Apple turnovers are really easy to make (they take less than 30 minutes including bake time), and make a great impromptu snack or dessert. This is my basic, "I'm feeling lazy" recipe. It's pretty flexible- you can adjust the ingredients to taste, or tart it up with all sorts of extras like raisins, nuts, or other fruits, if you're into that sort of thing. A little bit of cloves, ground ginger, or nutmeg would be nice as well.

Apple Turnovers

Makes 4 turnovers

1 large apple, cored and peeled
*I used Granny Smith, but you can use almost any kind of apple. If apple is very sweet, add a bit of lemon juice.
4 4x5-inch squares of puff pastry, thawed
2-3 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp butter, cut into little bits

Preheat oven to 375 F. Arrange puff pastry squares on parchment-lined baking sheet, a few inches apart. Chop apple into 1/2 inch chunks and toss with sugar and cinnamon.
Divide filling into 4 parts. Place filling in mounds in the center of the pastry squares and dot with butter bits. Fold each square in half diagonally, corner to corner, making a triangle shape. Press edges together to seal, and cut two 1-inch slits on top of the turnover to vent. At this point, you can also brush the top of the turnover with an egg wash and/or sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20-22 minutes, until pastry is puffed and golden. Cool about 10 minutes before eating.

June 11, 2007


I'm a grad student in archaeology who has always used baking as a way to cope with stress. After finding myself baking compulsively and with rather alarming frequency, to the point that my boyfriend became quite concerned for my sanity, I realized I needed a break from school. So now, as I'm nearing the end of what may well be my last term as a student, I find myself suddenly with a lot of time on my hands (that is to say, unemployed). On the bright side, it does give me a lot of time to devote to one of my favorite things: food.

I'm not a great baker. Not even a consistently good baker. I'm still in the process of learning, and despite the many frustrations I thoroughly enjoy every minute of it, something that could not be said of grad school. Hopefully by writing about my baking adventures, I'll be inspired to bake more, try new things, and rescue that creative spirit that was crushed by too many years in academia.

So this is a chronicle of my learning process, with the occasional archaeological aside. I honestly never thought I'd write a blog; the whole concept seemed pretty weird and egotistical to me. But then I started reading food blogs, and was inspired by the many talented, interesting, and fun people out there who share their love of food with the world. I am in no way in their league, nor will I ever be, but here it goes anyways...