World Cuisine Challenge: Fiji

Several years ago Dan started bringing home strange ingredients and challenging me to make something out of it. Perhaps spawned from my binge-watching of Chopped, or just because he knows that I love a good challenge, this became a frequent event at dinner time. I tackled all kinds of bizarre ingredients and, to be honest, I probably spent more time Googling than cooking. Some efforts were rewarded with tasty meals and others were total flops.

Then, sometime last year, I informed Dan that this Chopped-ish challenge would go both ways. After all, he was clearly missing out on all the good times. He agreed, but we revised and upgraded the plan.

Thus, World Cuisine Challenge was born.

The new rules: One person picks a country (any country). The other person has to research the country’s cuisine, pick a night of the week, and cook a typical dish from that country. No whining, no excuses…Cook like a champion.

Verdict: SO MUCH FUN!

To date we have researched and cooked with inspiration from eight countries (as follows):

  1. Laos (Dan)
  2. Romania (Carolyn)
  3. Angola (Dan)
  4. Azerbaijan (Carolyn)
  5. Papua New Guinea (Dan)
  6. Bolivia (Carolyn)
  7. Italy (Dan)
  8. Fiji (Carolyn)

We’ve have some rock-star dinners, mediocre meals, and a few epic failures. It’s all about the journey.

Tonight was Fiji night. Here’s how it went…

 


Food in Fiji

Fijian food is remarkably simple. That’s probably because Fiji is an island smack in the middle of the world’s largest ocean. But with isolation comes resourcefulness.

The people of Fiji know how to use a few core ingredients to whip up some delectable dishes of fish, root vegetables (taro, cassava, and something called duruka, which is a flower of a cane root), rice, and coconut. There is some culinary influence from India, as there were a handful of folks who came over in the late 1800s, but otherwise things have stayed much the same.

For my Fijian challenge I chose a coconut-based, curry-like fish dish that is loosely referred to as “fish in lolo.” The internet boasts several variations based on a similar core ingredients: mild white fish, coconut milk, hot peppers or chilies, and limes/lemons/lemongrass.

Sign. Me. Up.

In post-meal reflection, “fish in lolo” reminded me of a blend of Thai and Indian curries. Spicy yet sweet, creamy but light, and super flavorful. According to the internet (i.e., numerous authors of varying quality, accuracy, and expertise), this is a common curry-like dish that uses up “what’s left in the fridge.”

Like many curry and curry-ish recipes, this comes together quickly. I’m a big curry fan because they are fast and simple, and they make for some delicious leftovers.

Want to up your curry game? Try this one out!

Step 1: Mise en place. Yes, that’s the extent of my French. Mise en place means “put in place.” Or, my translation: “Get your s*** in order.” This is really important for curry recipes, as they are so fast that you don’t have the time to leisurely dice a pepper before your coconut milk has burned. Chop everything ahead, measure out your spices, and have all ingredients on the counter before you start. Use small prep bowls (a great investment if you love to cook) or sort items on a large cutting board. Prepping ahead means less stress later (that phrase could go on one of those generic inspirational posters with pictures of oak trees…).

Now that everything is prepped and ready, let’s get started!

Start with the aromatics. Swirl a bit of olive oil into a large, deep skillet, and add the garlic and ginger. Stir it around for a minute or so until it smells delectable – not too long or it will burn.

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Add to the skillet the red onion, hot pepper, lemongrass, and about 1/3 of the coconut milk. Stir it all together. If it looks like frosting for a Mardi Gras king cake, you’re on the right track!

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I’ve got the cake! Now where are the floats?

Give this about 3 minutes to cook and meld together. When you start to smell the lemongrass, add in the rest of the coconut milk, the turmeric, and the cumin. It’s going to turn yellow and that’s OK! Some might argue that it would be better to toast the spices with the garlic and ginger at the beginning – try it either way.

After the sauce has returned to a uniform color, add the fish pieces and toss to coat. Then add the fish sauce, brown sugar, and lemon juice.

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Cover with a lid for about 7 minutes (still medium heat) to cook the fish through. Don’t know what to do with yourself while you wait? I recommend pouring yourself a glass of chilled Sauv Blanc. Cheers.

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Rowan looking characteristically unimpressed by dinner-in-the-making.

Return to the stove (preferably with glass of vino in hand). Add the crushed tomatoes. It will now look like a McDonald’s advertisement. Don’t worry, your dinner is going to taste WAY better than that sorry excuse for “food.”

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Then add the sweet potato (par-cooked makes the process faster). I found a purple sweet potato at the store, which loosely resembles the violet color of taro root. Oh hey, Phoenix Suns curry!

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This one’s for Charles Barkley, Dan Majerle, and Steve Nash…

Put the lid on again for a few minutes while you gather some plates. When plating, serve the curry on top of rice. Top with basil and/or unsweetened coconut flakes.

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When your first plate is gone, go back for seconds. No judgment.

 

World Culinary Challenge is a blast. I encourage others to try it out in their own kitchens. Even if it’s just once a month or every-other month, expand your horizons, and check out recipes from lands unknown (or at least unknown to you). Passport to culinary adventure begins now!

 

 


 

“Fish in Lolo” (Fijian-inspired Coconut Curry with Fish)

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. sturdy, white fish (Mahi Mahi, cod, snapper), cut into 1-2 inch pieces
  • 1 large taro root (sweet potato is a good substitute), chopped into 1 inch pieces and par-cooked over the stove for about 10 minutes
  • 1 hot chile pepper (serrano, red Thai chiles), finely chopped
  • 2 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped and seed removed
  • 1 stalk of lemongrass, minced  (if you can’t find lemongrass, extra lemon juice will work)
  • 1 can (400mg) of coconut milk
  • 1 tsp. tumeric
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 tsp. fish sauce
  • 2 tsp. brown sugar
  • Juice of 1/2 of a lemon
  • Basil (chiffonade) and unsweetened coconut flake, for garnish

Directions

  1. Prepare ingredients: Remove outer leaf of lemongrass and finely chop. Dice onion. Peel the garlic and mince the ginger. Slice chile, scrape out seeds, then finely chop. Roughly chop tomatoes. Chop the sweet potoates into cudes. Cut up the fish. Measure out the turmeric and cumin.
  2. Heat a large fry-pan on medium heat. Add ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant (1-2 minutes). Add ¼ cup of the coconut milk, lemongrass, chile, and onion and cook until tender, 2-3 minutes.
  3. Stir in remaining coconut milk, turmeric, and cumin. Simmer for a minute or two.
  4. Add fish pieces and toss to coat. Cover and let cook for about 5-7 minutes, until fish is cooked through but still tender.
  5. Add tomatoes, lemon juice, fish sauce, and brown sugar. Simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Serve over rice. Top with basil and/or unsweetened coconut flakes

 

Chocolate Bloom Explained

Yesterday a friend of mine sent me a panicked text about chocolate.

She was gathering ingredients to make a chocolate cake and she noticed that her chocolate had turned “white.” Our conversation went something like this:

Kim: Carolyn! Is my chocolate ok?! Is that mold?!
Me: It’s fine, you can use it. It’s called “chocolate bloom”
Kim: Am I going to die if I eat it? I’m making a bday cake – the livelihood of others is on the line
Me: No one is going to die. It’ll taste the same, just melt it like usual
Kim: Ok, thanks!
Me: I think you need a glass of wine…
Kim: Probably more than one.

Kim had sent me a photo of her chocolate. It resembled this:

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You’ve probably been through this before. Walk into the pantry to grab the bag of chocolate chips or blocks of baking chocolate. You open the package and the chocolate looks old and dusty, like a box in grandma’s attic.

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“Attic” chocolate!

That’s called “blooming” and there is no reason to panic!


 

Let’s talk science, shall we?

First let’s address the ingredients in chocolate. Most baking chocolates are made of cocoa (in the form of powder, liquor, or a combination), cocoa butter, and some elements of sugar and soy lecithin (prevents the cocoa and the cocoa butter from separating). The latter ingredients are what distinguish unsweetened, bittersweet, and semi-sweet chocolate varieties.

Chocolate, in its form as baking bars, chocolate chips, etc., is a shelf-stable product…so long as you treat it with care.

In a basic scientific explanation, things stay the same unless an external agent is introduced. This can be called stability, constancy, or equilibrium.

That chocolate bar wants to stay the way it is. Unfortunately, our kitchens are not stable environments. The weather changes outside (temperature swings, rain, snow, dry heat, humidity), you open and close windows, and the pantry gets shuffled around. If you’re in my house, Dan finds his way into the bag of chocolate chips when you’re not looking, forgets to seal the bag, and the next day he blames it all on the dog.

When chocolate is exposed to the “elements” for a period of time, the chemistry of the chocolate changes. Typically this occurs in one of two forms…

 

What is “Bloom”?

There are two main causes of bloom: Fats and Sugars

Fat Bloom:

Fat bloom occurs when the cocoa butter separates itself from the cocoa solids. This is usually due to drastic temperature change. Ever left a chocolate bar in your car and then tried to “freeze” it back to a solid state? It probably suffered from fat bloom and looked like the surface of Mars was covered in a blanket of chocolate…mmmmm…

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If Mars is made of chocolate, put me on the next shuttle!

Fat bloom will make the chocolate more brittle. It also probably won’t taste as delicious if you simply eat it. However, it works “normally” in any recipe that requires you to melt or temper the chocolate. All the ingredients are still there, they have just have to be put back together. You need to melt it all back to chocolate harmony. Check out a great tutorial on tempering chocolate (without ruining it) here.

 

Sugar Bloom:

Sugar bloom is the result of water or moisture coming into contact with the chocolate. This is what happened to poor Kim.

When moisture comes in contact with chocolate, the sugar separates (in a similar manner to the cocoa butter above), causing the sugar to crystallize. From a glance sugar bloom looks like chalk or dust. But if you zoom in, it will remind you of tiny Champagne bubbles.

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The dusty white stuff on the outside is crystallized sugar that has risen to the top/outside of the chocolate. A quick fix to this is to grate off the bloom (I prefer a thin Microplane but any grater will do). You don’t have to go crazy because it is a very thin layer. Your chocolate will look good as new!

Similar to chocolate that has suffered by fat bloom, sugar bloomed chocolate can still be used in recipes that require melting or tempering. You can throw still use chocolate chips that have experienced sugar bloom, but the chips will still look chalky in the final product.


 

Preventing Chocolate Bloom

It’s all about storage. To prevent fat or sugar bloom, it is best to keep chocolate in an air-tight container, in a cool, dark place, and away from windows, heat sources, or other things that affect temperature.

I recommend a small, glass Snapware tub to keep air and moisture out.

 

Can chocolate expire?

Absolutely. Typically chocolate bars last between 4-6 months stored (properly) in the pantry, and may last a few extra months if stored in the fridge or freezer.

When in doubt, throw it out. Expired chocolate does not have a distinct visual change but the flavor is often bitter. It will not be remedied by melting or tempering.

In my house chocolate never expires. It gets eaten way before that could ever happen, but word on the street is that not everyone has the same self-control issues that we do. Guilty as charged.


There you have it! Chocolate science!

And if you’re wondering, Kim’s cake turned out great, the birthday party was a blast, and nobody died.

Bake on!

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Women’s March on Washington

*This is a departure from my typical culinary content, but I hope you can appreciate a brief personal reflection during a politically-challenging time in America.

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It has been one week since the March on Washington but it has felt like an eternity. The days have been filled with breaking headlines, clips of protests, a host of tyrannic executive orders, and threats to the very democracy on which this country has thrived. I’ve yelled, cried, and drank. I’ve called senators and representatives. I’ve joined a local advocacy group. I have also observed a level of anger in myself that I have never had to experience.

I have also had time to process and reflect on last weekend, and I feel ready to share.

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Reminiscence

For me, the March provided both validation and momentum. It was a weekend of strength, passion, love, and courage. A reminder that there are so many Americans united against acts of hate and injustice.

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It started before I even arrived in Washington. On my plane from Albuquerque I sat next to two women with the same plan. As people boarded the plane there was a noticeable imbalance of female to male passengers. Pink hats and WMW t-shirts were everywhere. There was a photographer on board who couldn’t resist taking photos and interviewing women during the flight. The white, middle-aged man (on the plane for a business trip) sitting in front of me said, “I am so impressed and so proud. Go get ’em, ladies!”

I met my brother and my friend, Beth, in Washington. It was Inauguration Day. With the March the following morning there was a dizzying mix of red Trump baseball hats and pink knitted “pussyhats.” Interactions were generally non-existent between the wearers, and you could cut the tension with a knife.

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The next morning we made our way to the Mall. Walking toward the Capital you could feel the energy. A hopeful and contagious energy. There were people of all ages, genders, races, and ethnicities. In the moment it was impossible to appreciate the magnitude of it all.

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Standing not too far from the stage, the Mall was crowded, yet peaceful. I never knew a crowd of half-a-million people could be so polite. At the time, we had no idea that the crowd was spilling out of the Mall and into the streets of D.C. Cellphone service was overwhelmed and there was no chance of getting a signal. It allowed us to be present and that was an incredible gift.

In the thick of it we watched the speakers and performers of the rally, chatted with the people who were invading all personal space, and pointed out some of what may be the wittiest protest signs in history. It reminded me that with activism comes camaraderie, and in turn, with anger comes joy.

The march itself was “cancelled,” but a large group (what I can only estimate to be 50,000+) marched anyway. We snaked through the streets of D.C., past Trump Hotel and the White House, and dispersed somewhere near Dupont Circle. With signs above our heads we yelled chants at the top of our lungs. “My body, my choice!” “Love, not hate, that’s what makes America great.” “Show me what a feminist looks like! This is what a feminist looks like!” Most importantly, we supported each other.

After the march my brother and my friend walked back toward our Air BnB, still stunned by the enormity of the crowd, yet ignorant of all the marches that were occurring around the globe. We found our way into a bar, sat down at a wine barrel-turned-table and ordered Makers & Gingers. On the TVs were news reports pouring in about the numbers of peaceful marchers around the country and the world. It gave me hope.

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Reflection

The March was also a humble reminder of my own privilege. I grew up with loving parents who fostered independence from a young age. My mother is a strong, kind, and well-educated woman who modeled a remarkable sense of self-reliance, tenacity, and respect of all people. My father is a commanding force of ideas, intellect, and reason, yet he also conveys compassion, understanding, and humility in all that he does. My brother is a passionate and outspoken young man with a heart of gold and a sweeping appreciation for the talents and sentiments of others. In a world that has begun to normalize “locker room talk,” it feels necessary to say that, in all our years, he has never made a single derogatory remark about women. In fact, he marched right beside me in Washington.

As a child I wanted for nothing. We had a large house, multiple cars, plenty of delicious food, adequate medical care, and a home filled with love. As a white girl in a suburban neighborhood, daily life was not a struggle. I grew up attending a church that supported gay marriage. I participated in after-school activities, sports, and clubs. My parents taught me life skills. I was allowed to make mistakes, to fail, with a cushion of support to catch me. I had positive male and female role models in the forms of teachers, coaches, and family friends, all of whom respected women and minorities. I was encouraged to push boundaries and ask questions. I was damn lucky.

I also grew up among some fierce female friends who have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, professors, entrepreneurs, teachers, and mothers. I can’t take the credit for their strengths and accomplishments, but I will say that my Rolodex is pretty impressive and I’m blessed to have such badass women in my life.

In essence, I am privileged. I haven’t had to fight, I have chosen to fight. And that is privilege at its core.

As a white female I have benefited from a political and social system that treats me with more respect than women of color or other racial, ethnic, and religious minorities. My outrage was sparked when my own rights were threatened, and not in the years past when minorities were fighting for the rights I took for granted. For this I owe a long-overdue apology that will be woefully inadequate. To those with less privilege, I am sorry for not being as good of an advocate as I could have been. I cannot retrace my steps and improve my actions, but I can promise to be a voice from this point forward.

At the March on Washington I was surrounded by those of similar privilege and plenty of those whose lives have been much different than my own. Across all seven continents we saw a mix of genders, races, ethnicities, religions, and beliefs. People with disabilities. People who are rich and poor. Seasoned activists and first-timers. All ages, including grandparents and children. The unemployed to the CEOs. It was a reminder of why this movement is so important. We are only strong if we help those who do not have a voice.

We must come together to take on a force of hate, oppression, and injustice.

We won’t go quietly. We will continue to fight.

This is only the beginning.

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Lava Me Tender

When it comes to desserts, I prefer recipes that are utterly complicated. Weird, I know.

But there are some nights that I want chocolate and, to quote Veruca Salt, I want it now!

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Ooozy, chocolatey goodness!

Lava cakes are one of the best kept secrets of any home baker. They look like they have taken hours of work, tons of ingredients, and complex techniques. But they don’t.

Six ingredients. 30 minutes from start to finish. Seriously.

Not long ago I taught my former roommate (a guy whose livelihood depends on the microwave) to whip these up for a girl he was trying to woo. He got it on the first try. Oh and he got the girl too!

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“Hold on, you said 6 ingredients. I’m only counting 5.”                      Patience, young padawan…

 

Let’s do this.

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Break up your chocolate and throw it into a microwave-safe bowl with the butter. Microwave on high for 30 seconds, take it out and stir, then repeat until it looks like this:

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Resist the urge to eat a spoonful and add the powdered sugar. Whisk it in until it’s a uniform color.

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Then add the eggs and egg yolks and whisk them in. I prefer to beat them in a coffee mug beforehand to make it easier to incorporate. Add the flour and whisk until the batter is a uniform dark color again.

Up to this point you will have a classic chocolate lava cake. No bells or whistles.
Enter my secret weapon.

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The sweet nectar. If you’re ever in Fort Collins, Dancing Pines should be your first stop. No excuses.

This stuff is a game changer. Honestly you can add any flavoring to your batter and the experimentation is half of the fun. Try vanilla, rum flavoring, bourbon, Cointreau (orange), Kahlua (coffee),  whatever you fancy. Add about 1/2 teaspoon and mix it in.

Now to prepare the ramekins. The most harrowing moment of lava cakes is turning them out onto a plate. If you butter your ramekins adequately, you won’t even break a sweat.

 

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Now THAT is how you butter a ramekin!

Pro tip: Butter the crap out of your ramekins! “But I always use cooking spray for my pans and it’s totally fine.” No. Use butter – a lot of it. Don’t hold back. I’ve found that it’s easiest to use a sandwich bag for this (yes, like going-for-a-walk-with-your-dog style) to get good coverage on the ramekins and keep your hands completely clean. Magic!

Bake for 13 minutes (no more, no less) in a 425° oven. They are done if the edge is firm and the center is squishy – technical terms, I assure you. Pull them out of the oven and let them sit for a minute. Then run a butter knife around the edge.

Now for the magic inversion: Grab a small plate and cover the top of the ramekin (this will be the bottom of the cake). Flip it over and gently lift the ramekin. And for goodness sake, use potholders and don’t burn yourself!

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Now dust with some powered sugar, add a scoop of ice cream, and voila!

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Wait for it…

See? That was a piece of cake…err, easy as pie…. Why are all idioms food-related? Weird.

What are you waiting for? Stop reading…Get a spoon!

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Boom.

Molten Lava Cakes

Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate*
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 6 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of flavoring (e.g., vanilla, bourbon, Kahlua, etc)
  • Extra powdered sugar or ice cream

 

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425° F. Butter four ramekins/custard cuts. Place on baking sheet.
  2. In a microwaveable bowl, melt the chocolate and butter together. Start with 30 seconds on high, then stir with a whisk, and repeat until smooth.
  3. Stir in powdered sugar until well blended. Add in eggs and egg yolks with wisk. Stir in flour and flavoring of choice. Divide batter between prepared custard cups.
  4. Bake 13 to 14 minutes or until sides are firm but centers are soft. Let stand
    1 minute. Carefully run a small knife around cakes to loosen. Invert cakes onto
    dessert dishes. Serve immediately with a dusting of powdered sugar and a scoop of ice cream. Yields 4 lava cakes.

*Bakers brand chocolate used to come in 1 oz squares. The newer packaging is slightly different where 1 “old” square = 4 new pieces. Make sure to read the box to get the correct measurements.

Bread: A Love Story

Bread is beautiful. It is so simple, yet incredibly complex. Four ingredients can come together in a thousand different ways. Making bread is every bit science as it is art.

For me, bread started it all. So it is only fitting that it is also the start of this blog.

Fresh Beginnings:
If you would have asked me ten years ago how to bake bread I would have little knowledge to offer. I was a college student with a small budget, limited time, and a definitive lack of culinary prowess. I shopped the clearance shelves at the grocery store and concocted weird recipes to satiate my basic nutritional needs. This included day-old bread from the bakery. Less than 24 hours out of the oven a gorgeous crusty baguette or a soft seeded loaf would be cast aside and slapped with a discount sticker (the dunce hat of the bakery world).

For shame.

I considered myself a rescuer of all things gluten and found ways to turn even the gnarliest looking loaf into something delicious (French Toast, bread pudding, breakfast casserole, croutons…you get the idea). Heck, I considered it a challenge. And I LOVE a good challenge.

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All day I dream of baguettes…

I met my (future) husband, Dan, in 2008. There’s a long story about an epic snowstorm, a Mustang, and the Super Bowl, but I’ll spare you those details. Eventually we moved in together when we were both graduate students. Grad school meant working long hours for very little money – supposedly for the love of science (at least that’s what we told ourselves). It didn’t take him long to discover my love of a good deal and a good challenge. So he dared me to make bread.

Bread.

As in, that stuff that makes the grocery store smell so good. The magical loaves that I could only assume were formed by the hands of baking elves and other wizardy.

Crap.

He wants me to become a wizard.

“Ok, Carolyn, you can do this.” I told myself with clueless optimism. It was time for research.

I started where I always do: Google. What did people do before the Goog? “Go the library, duh” says my librarian mother (“Touche, mom”). Quickly I was down the rabbit hole reading about yeast strains, baker’s math, and sourdough starters dating to the mid-1500s. I was in over my head.

But then I came across an article by Ken Forkish. I had no idea who he was at the time and it would be several years before he would publish my favorite book on breadmaking. His writing spoke to me. He explained everything simply, elegantly, and enthusiastically. He explained that bread is only as intimidating as you make it. Humans have been doing this for hundreds of years – you can too. Cheers, Ken.


From Frisbees to Boules

My first attempt at bread was one for the record books. Dan and I still joke about that hard, flat disc. It went into the oven with such potential and love behind it, only to come out as a laughable, flavorless Frisbee.

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Oh hey Frisbee bread!

In hindsight, I did everything right and, at the same time, I did everything wrong.

I am a scientist at my core. I measured everything…twice. I read the directions…thrice. I double-checked my work, appropriately distinguished between volume and weight, adjusted bake time to account for our oven’s uneven heating, and computed Vegas odds of success vs failure.

So how could I have possibly screwed this up?

Well, I wrongly assumed that baking bread was simply science.

Silly psychologist, bread is also an artform.

I failed to acknowledge the presence of the Bread Gods. The ones who whisper in your ear when the dough is perfectly kneaded, the ones who guide your hands to form a flawless round, the ones who watch over your bread in the oven when you walk away to practice tricks with your dog. I did not yet appreciate the zen of bread.

Over months I made loaves that were variations of terrible: flat, “ballooning,” overbaked, underbaked, overworked, full of holes, you name it.

Forgot the salt? Yep. Killed the yeast? Of course. Burned the crust? Let’s just say more than once.

There were a lot of bad batches (translation: a lot of homemade croutons!)
But I got there.
And it was a damn good challenge.

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Hello, Gorgeous!

During this venture I learned a lot of things about baking, but also about myself. Regarding the latter, I’m annoyingly perfectionistic. I hate screwing up but I can adapt quickly and problem-solve in a heartbeat. I’m not patient (surprise!). Baking relaxes me. Oh and I really, really, really, love sourdough (the tangier, puckerier, sourer…yep, I’m making up words…the better).

I now make bread several times per month with old and new recipes. I’ve developed friendships of recipe exchanges with fellow breadbakers. I even attended a three-day conference about breadbaking (more on that later – it was incredible!). I love the versatility of four ingredients – the science and the art coming together – and the end result of a crusty, golden boule. It’s truly a love story without the bizarre photos of Fabio. Plus nothing beats the smell of fresh bread in the oven! Mmmmmm…

Learning to make bread teaches patience, vigilance, and humility. It’s a lesson in failure, resilience, and self-examination. I challenge you to try it. Like me, you may fail the first time. When/if you do, dust yourself off (literally and figuratively) and do it again.

You’ll love the smell of victory from the oven.

 


Simple French Boule

I can’t promise that this recipe is fool-proof, but I can assure you it’s the easiest place to start. Boule is French for ‘ball’ and reflects the shape of the dough as a round loaf. Recipe yields 2 small rounds.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups lukewarm water (100 degrees F)
  • 1.5 Tablespoons active dry yeast (not rapid rise)
  • 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (you may need a bit more/less depending on wetness of dough)
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher salt

Directions:

  1. Whisk together water and yeast. Let sit on counter for 15-20 minutes until bubbly.
  2. In another bowl, whisk 3.5 cups of flour with salt. Add water gradually and combine with a robust mixing spoon until dough is thick and difficult to stir.
  3. Turn out onto a floured board. Knead for about five minutes, adding a bit of flour as you go (up to 4 cups total). Don’t know how to knead? No fear – go here. To avoid Frisbee bread, knead the dough until it can stand on its own without morphing into a flat blob on the counter (these are technical terms, by the way). It should spring back slowly when you press gently with your finger.
  4. Place into a greased bowl, cover loosely with plastic wrap or light towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled (about 30-45 minutes).
  5. Shape into a boule. It’s simpler than it sounds. There is an excellent video tutorial here. Cover lightly with plastic wrap or light towel while the oven heats up.
  6. Preheat oven to 450° F. If you want to get fancy, use a really sharp knife and cut a few lines in the bread about 1/2 inch deep.
  7. Bake for 40-50 minutes and crust is golden brown. If crust starts getting too brown before time, tent with tin foil. Allow to cool completely before cutting into the bread. For nerds out there, the internal temperature of the bread should be at least 180° F.
  8. Fun tip: If you want that bakery-style crispy crust with chewy crumb, place a 9×13″ pan in the oven when you preheat the oven (I usually put it on the rack below the bread). Right after you put the dough in, throw a cup of water into the pan and quickly close the oven door. The steam will help create that delicious, crackly crust!