Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Kneadless Seeds-A-Plenty Wheat Bread--When the Bakery is Bare, Bake Your Own

Lately, with a lot of show-and-tell book promotion activities for Simply Sensational Cookies on the agenda, I’ve been totally focused on cookie baking and decorating. But, out of desperation, this week I was forced to stop and come up with this new recipe for yeast bread instead.

I kept dropping by the local bakery with my mouth watering and teeth set for their appealing rustic seeded loaf.  But almost invariably, it was already sold out—grrr! A few times I mentioned to the staff that this was really disappointing and that perhaps they should consider preparing a larger batch. Apparently, nobody heeded this advice.

Why would a bakery never make enough of a particular bread to satisfy regular customer demand? Mismanagement? Orneriness? The idea that running out avoids waste or keeps patrons clamoring for more? I don’t know, but, I no longer care!  Armed with an ingredient label from the last precious boule purchased from the shop, plus the basic method used for many breads in my 2009 Kneadlessly Simple cookbook, I devised a recipe in hopes it could yield bread to stand in for their rare loaf.

And woohoo, it does!  The wholesome wheatiness (tamed with a touch of brown sugar), and rich nuttiness from an ample sampling of seeds are spot on in my replacement loaf. And the nubby, crispy, seed-studded look is on target, too. The texture of my bread is a bit different (though just as tempting). As you can see in the shot at the very top, it’s holey and open in the manner of some artisan breads, plus due to fuller gluten-development the crust on my no-knead version is chewier and crumb springier than those in the prototype. It’s a good thing my first set of photos turned out, because we scarfed down much of the loaf as soon as I was done shooting.

 In case you’re skeptical that a kneadless bread could possibly have superior gluten development over one worked with powerful kneading equipment, let me explain. While the baker completely skips the usual pushing, pulling, stirring or beating that causes two proteins, glutenin and gliadin to come together and form rubbery gluten strands, in the following no-knead method the dough actually KNEADS ITSELF! 
This happens partly because the dough is on the just slightly soft (but not runny or batter-like) side.  Second, the dough sits so the yeast can bubble and ferment for a long time (12 to 18 hours), which, on the molecular level causes the glutenin and gliadin particles to bounce around and form gluten even more thoroughly than kneading usually does. (The shot of another dough rising in a glass bowl at right shows the many gas bubbles that are formed during a long rise.)  And as professional artisan bakers will tell you, there’s another benefit of a very slow, cool rise: An extended, leisurely fermentation develops the fullest, most satisfying yeasty bread flavor.

Seeds-a-Plenty Kneadless Whole Wheat Boule

This healthful, handsome, full-flavored bread is all about the seeds, both in and on the loaf.  They lend taste, texture, eye appeal, fiber, and nutrients, so don’t skimp and use at least three and preferably more kinds. The loaf shown includes sesame, millet, pumpkin, sunflower, and chia seeds, and I would have also added flax and poppy seeds if they’d been on hand.
One advantage for the novice or very busy baker is that this bread requires no hand-shaping. The risen dough is simply turned out into the preheated round baking container, which automatically forms it into a boule.

Don’t worry if the dough looks shaggy or misshapen at first—it will even out nicely as it bakes. If at all possible, bake this loaf in a Dutch oven or oven-proof casserole in the 3 1/2-quart, or 8 ½-inch diameter range.  This size provides enough room that the dough can expand fully, but is not so large that it flattens out into a low loaf.  (A larger pot will work; it just won’t produce a high, round boule.)  

 The bread usually doesn't stick to seasoned plain or enameled cast iron pot, but it's a good idea to spritz the interior with a little nonstick spray immediately before you turn out the dough into it just in case .

Tip: To ready the ice water stir together water and a heaping cup of ice cubes for 1 minute. Discard the cubes and measure out the water needed. Also note that the recipe calls for fast rising or bread machine yeast; regular active dry yeast will not perform well with this ice water rising method.

1 2/3 cups (8 ounces) white bread flour, plus more as needed
1 2/3 cups (8 ounces) white whole wheat flour or regular whole wheat flour
3 1/2 tablespoons packed light or dark brown sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons table salt
1 teaspoon instant, fast-rising, or bread-machine yeast
1 2/3 cups ice water, plus more if needed
2/3 cup mixed seeds, preferably including pumpkin, flax (gold and/or brown), poppy, sesame, millet, and sunflower
Corn oil, canola oil or other flavorless vegetable oil spray for coating dough and spritzing the baking container

First Rise: In a large bowl, thoroughly stir together the flours, brown sugar, salt and yeast. Vigorously stir the water into the bowl, scraping down the sides and mixing until the ingredients are thoroughly blended. If the mixture is too dry to incorporate all the flour, stir in more water, a bit at a time, just enough to blend the ingredients and yield a slightly soft, but not wet dough. If necessary, stir in a little more water or more flour to yield a dough that mounds, then very slowly spreads out in the bowl. Brush or spray the top with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. If desired, for best flavor or for convenience, you can refrigerate the dough for three to 8 hours. Then let it rise at cool room temperature for 12 to 18 hours. If convenient, vigorously stir the dough once about halfway through the rise.

Second Rise: Using a large spoon and turning and stirring the dough, gradually sprinkle over and work in a generous half of the seeds. (Do the best you can to distribute them fairly evenly throughout, but don’t worry about perfection.) Brush or spray the surface with oil. Re-cover the bowl with plastic wrap that has been coated with nonstick spray. Let rise using any of these methods: for a 1 1/2- to 2 1/2-hour regular rise, let stand at warm room temperature; for a 1- to 2-hour accelerated rise, let stand in a turned-off microwave along with 1 cup of boiling-hot water; or for an extended rise, refrigerate, covered, for 4 to 24 hours, then set out and let come to room temperature. Continue the rise until the dough doubles from the deflated size; remove the plastic if the dough nears it.

Baking Preliminaries: About 20 minutes before baking time, put a rack in the middle third of the oven. Set the pot and its lid on the rack to heat at the same time. Preheat to 425 degrees F. Heat until the oven reaches 425, then continue 5 minutes more to thoroughly heat the pot. Remove the pot, using heavy mitts and place it on a dry tea towel.  Quickly spritz its interior evenly with a little non-stick spray.  Sprinkle about a tablespoon of the seeds into the pot. Taking care not to deflate the dough (or burn yourself), immediately loosen it from the bowl sides with an oiled rubber spatula and gently invert it into the pot. Don't worry if it's lopsided and ragged-looking; it will even out during baking. Sprinkle the seeds evenly over the dough top. Immediately top with the lid. Shake the pot back and forth to center the dough.

Baking:  Lower the heat to 400 degrees F. Bake on the middle rack for 55 minutes. Remove the lid. If the dough looks well browned and very crusty, it may be done. Test with a skewer or an instant-read  thermometer in the thickest part; if it comes out clean or registers 205-209 degrees, set the pot on a wire rack and let the bread cool for 5 minutes. If the skewer comes out sticky or the dough top still looks pale and slightly soft and the temperature is below the target range, continue baking, uncovered, for 10 to 20 minutes longer, or until the top is well browned and a skewer inserted in the thickest part comes out with just a few crumbs on the tip (or until center registers at least 205 degrees on an instant-read thermometer). If the thermometer is at all moist or full of crumbs, bake an extra 5 minutes longer to ensure the center is baked through. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the loaf to the rack and cool thoroughly. The bread will keep at room temperature for three days, and may be frozen, airtight, for up to two months.
Makes 1 large loaf, 12 to 14 slices.

Another bread you might like--my no-knead whole wheat-bulgur pot boule.

Or perhaps you're interested in my very popular crusty white pot boule from Kneadlessly Simple.

Or for a complete change of pace, try my kneadless chile-cheese bread loaf.

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Yo! Cookbook Authors (& Wannabes): When Chronicle's Bill LeBlond Speaks You Ought to Listen

When Bill LeBlond, Editorial Director, Food and Wine at Chronicle Books,  kicked off his IACP Webinar/ Teleforum Wednesday, he should have warned us to fasten our seat beats. For one  jam-packed hour, he took us on a riveting, fast-paced tour of how cookbook publishing works; how to win over an editor; and how to see the dream of writing a cookbook come true. He spoke non-stop, with clarity and remarkable candor. I thought everything he said sounded right on!

Here, pretty much in Bill's own words, are some key points for those who write cookbooks or aspire to. First, he laid out the following publishing basics, then went on to provide a wide range of practical suggestions and advice. 

> An acquisitions editor's  main job Bill says is, "to find cookbooks that will earn the publisher money." All other considerations are secondary.

> The process normally starts with the author sending an editor or a literary agent a cookbook proposal,  query letter, or full manuscript detailing the project; a well thought-out proposal  is most common. Many publishers today will only look at material vetted by and submitted through a literary agent; details on why are here. (I'll be writing a separate post on what's in a formal cookbook proposal in the future--it's a very substantial package and includes a number of components.)

> If the acquisitions editor likes the book proposal, he or she prepares a "top sheet" spotlighting its strong points, potential audience, season, etc.  He takes this  to an editorial board (including marketing and sales staff members). At Chronicle Books, the editor's job is just to present, NOT to sell the proposal during the meeting, as all in attendance have read it already. Together, the group assesses whether it has sufficient sales potential and quality to proceed. 

> If the Committee decides to proceed, the editor prepares a profit and loss sheet and devises a deal to offer the author or his/her agent. This covers the book's projected  price point, potential number of copies, photos, publishing rights granted, and much more. Addionally it covers what recipes and text the author must deliver and when and what advance and/or royalties she will receive in return. All elements are negotiated and, if the parties come to terms, a deal is made.

>Normally, a year to 18 months later, the author delivers the manuscript. Then a year to  18 months after that, the book is published. As Bill emphasizes, "The process takes a much longer time than many aspiring authors realize."

Author Dos and Don't 

Always send a well-written cover letter with any submission; editors want you to first introduce yourself and your material.   

Never send an acknowledgments page with your submission; it's considered amateurish because it is "getting way ahead of the process."

Always direct your pitch or proposal to a specific editor. (Tip: Look in the Acknowledgements page in published cookbooks to find out editors'/agents' names and what kinds of books they take on.)

Be sure your book idea has  a clear, strong hook—if it takes more than 25 words to describe what it is about, the hook is not strong enough. A good hook (Bill's favorite is Big Fat Cookies by Elinor Klivens) sells the book right away.  

Be original! Don't start by relating your memories of your wonderful grandmother baking this or cooking that. Bill says he and other editors have "heard that too many times."

Do your homework on what books are similar to  your proposed subject. Learn what's already out there by checking on Amazon and in bookstores. Use the information to explain why your concept is  different and better. Be specific, but don't be nasty or trash the competition; it might be one of the editor’s previous books!

Random Suggestions/Points to Ponder

 Editors tend to be skeptical, so be prepared to respond effectively to these three reactions:  "So what? Who cares? Why you?" 

An important difference between cookbook recipes and free Internet recipes is that the former start with an interesting story or useful information (called a headnote). Says Bill, "Good headnotes are a key reason cookbooks are able to successfully compete with free recipes today--people love good stories." (My dos and don'ts on writing headnotes are here.)

An exciting headnote makes the reader want to try the recipe. "Your guests will love this!" will not do it," he notes. "And if I make the dish," he adds, "it better be good!"

Focus on what you do and know well; don’t try to tailor your concept or proposal to what you think is "in." 

Ask yourself if you really have anything to offer in a cookbook—you must have fresh, fabulous recipes and an  exciting, well-conceived idea. Friends saying you're a great cook is not enough.

"Take yourself and your work seriously.  Be passionate about your idea.  And PERSEVERE!!" 

 Other related posts you may want to check out:

What Cookbook Editors Are Looking For--Two Top Editors Tell You

Wanna Write A Cookbook?--Make Those Recipe Intros Tasty 

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

The BEST (& Easiest) Way to Roll Out Cookie Dough, Plus Other Top Tips for Tastiest, Prettiest Cookies Ever

"Wow, I wish I’d known that technique thirty years ago,” an enthusiastic student in my cookie class at King Arthur Flour’s Baking Education Center told me last weekend. She was referring to the incredibly easy, yet effective method (shot as I demonstrated it above) for rolling and cutting out rolled cookies. (Check out my YouTube video that shows how to roll out cookies here.) BTW, the method works for pie dough, too.

Basically, it involves sandwiching and rolling out a slightly soft disc of dough between pieces of baking parchment or wax paper as shown below right; then transferring the sheet of dough (paper still attached) to the refrigerator or freezer until cool and firm; then finally cutting out the cookie shapes right on the paper. (For pie dough, just peel off the paper and center the dough round right into the pie plate and trim it to fit.) I am so high on the method that I created a video to spotlight it called, "The BEST Way to Roll Out Cookie Dough." For step-by-step details, plus pics of some pretty decorated cookies, do check it out. For a good sugar cookie recipe, plus more nice pics, go here.
I think it's the best technique for most doughs because it offers a number of big advantages over the classic, roll-out-on-a floured-board approach:

>It eliminates any chance of over-flouring the dough, ensuring very tender cookies with no dusty look or unattractive floury splotches.

>It allows for very clean, clear cuts by the cutters and easy transfer of perfectly shaped cookies (like the ones set out for sampling below) to the baking pan because the dough can be kept cool and firm. If it becomes limp and soft, you simply slide it and the paper onto a tray and re-chill until easy to handle again.

>It greatly reduces countertop cleanup, as all rolling and cutting out are done right on the paper. 
>It facilitates producing more delicate and buttery cookies than otherwise possible, as the usual tricky handling due to greasiness is avoided by refrigerating and firming up the dough whenver necessary during rolling.

>It offers the convenience of readying the dough for cutting out either shortly after mixing or after a longer stay in the refrigerator, if preferred. 

As the pic at the very top reveals, the method is both highly efficient and tidy. As long as the dough is kept cool (either by returning it to the fridge as needed or placing it and the paper on a well-chilled baking sheet during the cutting out process), the shapes are firm enough that they can be simply lifted by hand to baking sheets; no wide spatula is needed. By the way, that's not a cup of flour in the pic but powdered sugar. The daisy cutter and others with deep indentations and grooves release from the dough more readily if dipped into powdered sugar first. 

 Here are some other tips that I covered in my class and present  in my new book, Simply Sensational Cookies.  I'm passing them along here so  you, too, can be  on the path to best, easiest holiday cookies ever.

> Butter that’s too cold won’t fluff up properly  or form a creamy mixture as shown at left. Do a “press test” to be sure it’s warmed up and soft enough at the start; an indentation should readily form when you press a finger into the butter. But if it’s squishy-soft, it’s too warm and should be chilled slightly before being used; overly-soft butter won't fluff, melts too quickly during baking and can cause cookies to run or flatten too much.

> Always check your baking powder, spices, nuts, and dried fruit for freshness. Baking powder loses its oomph with time, so be sure to note the “use by” date (normally on the can bottom), and replace if necessary. With spices, the nose knows: Fresh, quality spices smell intensely fragrant, sweet and pungent; old ones smell blah. Stale nuts can lend an off, rancid taste, and old dried fruits can suck moisture from dough and yield dry, crumbly cookies, so if necessary replace with new supplies.  

 > Never, ever substitute reduced-fat, diet, or tub-style margarine if butter is called for; these contain less fat and more water than butter and can wreck recipes. If you feel you must economize, use half regular stick margarine and half unsalted butter.

> Resist the urge to firm up overly-soft cookie doughs by adding extra flour–too much will make them dry and tough. Instead, let the dough stand in a cool spot or refrigerate for 5 to 10 minutes; this allows it to fully absorb the flour already added. Then, if absolutely necessary, add in the minimum of flour needed for manageability.

> Remember that different brands of cookie sheets cause different amounts of spreading, browning, and crisping. For most even baking and browning, choose sturdy, light-colored pans with low rims or no rims, so the air can flow over the cookie tops. If you care about uniform appearance, keep the cookie size consistent and bake the entire batch on the same kind of pans.

> Be sure to preheat the oven at least 15 minutes before beginning baking. For even baking, place any slightly thicker or larger cookies around the perimeter and thinner or smaller ones in the pan interior, as heat exposure is greater around the edges.

> Allow baking sheets to cool to room temperature before reusing. Warm sheets can cause cookies to run and flatten too much. If cookies still spread too much, chill the dough in the refrigerator a few minutes. The butter will firm up, so the cookies hold their shape better. 

Besides the making, rolling and cutting out, we covered how to decorate using beautiful, dye-free icings and sprinkles made from fruit juice concentrates. You can learn more about this and see pics in posts here and here.

This last image shows a whole lot of sampling going on at the end of the class. Yes, all the cookies were a hit and everybody, including me, had a good time!

Hungry for more on cookies?

A nice all-purpose icing (shown on the 4 cookies at right)  is here. Lots of holiday cookie decorating ideas and pics are here.

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