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ciabatta, awesome

July 20, 2011

Yesterday I solved a lot of problems, and it feels really good.

A couple of weeks ago, G and I were sitting around talking about bread after another loaf didn’t come out quite perfect. I’ve been trying to make bread now for about a year and while there have been some highlights, I feel like I keep hitting a wall where nothing is coming out the way it’s supposed to. Perhaps we should have thought of this sooner, but it suddenly occurred to us that maybe it’s not the flour or the yeast, but measurements.  There was an article in Cook’s Country magazine (highly recommend, by the way) recently about measuring cups, and apparently a lot of them are off by a surprising amount…one even up to a quarter cup!  I also have been talking with a friend of mine who found out her oven was pretty off using an oven thermometer.

So, maybe this is why the crust isn’t always so crusty, or the texture is a little too dense…time to experiment!

Armed with a scale (a beautiful retro red colored one!) and an oven thermometer, I followed the ciabatta recipe from The Bread Bible, an awesome bread book that gives measurements in cups, but also grams and ounces.  The first thing I found out was that my oven was 50 degrees off (cooler) when it said it had preheated. Wow. I think getting it at the right temperature (after cranking it up to 520 degrees for a bit) really gave this bread a wonderful crunchy, golden brown crust. Just what I’ve been dreaming about!


This recipe is really easy to follow, and makes crusty outside, silky chewy inside ciabatta. And the holes are gorgeous!  The recipe requires a biga (an Italian dough starter) that needs to be made six hours before you bake it, sitting at room temperature. After the six hours you can bake with it, or put it in the fridge for up to three days. I made it the day before, then put it in the fridge and used it the next day, so I haven’t tested the three days.  Let it warm up to room temperature before baking…same with your yeast.

Go get a scale and thermometer and try it yourself!



adapted from: Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible


for the biga:

1/2 cup + 1/2 tablespoon OR 75 grams of unbleached all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur)

1/16 teaspoon instant yeast (ie. a little bit…how you measure this I have no idea)

1/4 cup OR 59 grams room temperature water

for the bread:

1 cup OR 136 grams unbleached all-purpose flour (again, I used King Arthur)

1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup water OR 118 grams

1/2 cup OR 134 grams of the biga you made (note: mine didn’t make enough, more like 122 grams, but I used it anyway)


First, make the biga: Mix all of the biga ingredients in a small bowl with a spoon. Mix for about 3-5 minutes so that the biga is smooth and kind of sticky when you touch it. Cover with oiled plastic wrap (I sprayed it with Pam) and let it sit for about six hours. It should triple in size and be bubbly.

To make the bread, I used a Kitchen Aid mixer. With the whisker attachment, mix the flour and yeast to get them really combined. Mix in the salt. Then switch to the paddle attachment, and add the water and your biga.

Now, get all the flour moistened with the paddle on a low speed for a couple seconds. Switch to medium-high for 3 minutes. The dough should get pretty smooth, and then start to pull away from the sides of the bowl, making a ball under the paddle. (If after 3 minutes, it hasn’t done this, stop, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and do it on medium-high for another few minutes until it does.) Then beat for 2 minutes on medium speed.

Prepare a bowl smeared with some olive oil and put the dough in it…I did this by taking out the paddle and it all clung to it in a long elasticy fashion. Pat down the dough, cover with a little more olive oil, rubbing it gently over the top with your fingers. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for about 2 hours.

Next, prepare a baking sheet with flour sifted all over it (I learned from this that a sifter is an AWESOME way to prep a surface with flour). Also sift flour on a counter top, marble stone (thanks to my friend, E, I have a BEAUTIFUL one!), or cutting board. Remove the dough very gently from the bowl (you don’t want to mess up air pockets) and put it on the floured counter top so it’s kind of in an elongated rectangle. Push the sides together a little bit with the sides of your hands and then, using your fingers (I used my three middle ones at once, going down in a row) make pretty deep dimples in the dough. Start at the top and work your way down, with each dimple slightly tugging toward yourself. Ie you’re sticking your fingers in it and pulling back a bit to make the dough a little bit longer.  Apparently this dimpling process creates the really cool groovy crust on the bread.

Now, and this was the hardest for me, you want to pick up the dough, keeping the shape, and flip it over onto the prepared baking sheet, while being as gentle as possible. I sort of jimmied a spatula underneath using one of my hands as well.

Once you’ve got it on the baking sheet, sift more flour on top, and cover very loosely with plastic wrap. Let this sit for about 1.5-2 hrs until it about 1-1.5 inches high.  As soon as I set this aside, I started preheating the oven, to get it nice and hot so I would do this too, if I were you. You want to preheat it to 475 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, put that on the lowest rack. If not, put a baking sheet there, upside down. Put a cast iron pan or loaf pan or something like that on the floor of the oven under it (it needs to be something you can put ice cubes in). Now the oven is set up, so preheat it!

Once you’re ready, stick the baking sheet with bread on it (remove the plastic wrap) on the baking sheet or baking stone that has been heating up in the oven. Drop four or so ice cubes in the pan below. Bake at 475 degrees for 5 minutes, then drop it down to 450. Bake for 20 minutes (turning the baking sheet around half way through). After 20 minutes, turn off the oven and open the oven door slightly, and let the bread sit in there for 5 minutes.

Take it out, let it cool all the way on the rack, and EAT IT!





twitter! (and back to cooking)

July 19, 2011

So, it’s been a long time, and I apologize for the lack of posts.  I think that G and I getting married (yay!) is a pretty good excuse for the months-long absence) but I will admit that I have been cooking and eating during this time…including an awesome pre-wedding BBQ that we cooked for probably about 100 guests!

Thus, there is lots to catch up on and I hope to do so over the next few weeks, while also trying out new recipes (the oven is currently heating up for my first attempt at ciabatta!).

In other news, I started a twitter account for miniapples. You can see my “tweets” on the right-hand side of the blog.  Honestly, I don’t know how long I’ll keep it up, but I started it because there have been so many times when I’m out eating something and I want to share it, or I have something to say that’s shorter than a full-on blog post.  I hope you enjoy it. You can also follow me on twitter (if that’s your thing) at

cabbage soup

March 21, 2011

Today is the kind of day that is perfect for making soup — grey, overcast, slightly damp, and slightly chilly.

I’d like to follow that with: …so I stayed at home, put on a cozy sweater, and whipped up a big pot of creamy, delicious soup.


I’m too  busy for that today.  Instead, a short blog entry about a delicious, creamy soup I made a while ago will have to do (see, I have a lot to catch up on!).

I haven’t made a lot of soups, but after making this one from a recent issue of Bon Appetit magazine, I think I’d like to keep at it.  This one is a take on the classic potato leek soup, but adds cabbage and a light lemon-zesty cream topping.  It’s kind of perfect for winter because it has the heartiness of a cream soup (yet uses no cream in the actual soup!), which is what you want on a cold day, but the lemon topping and the green of the cabbage makes it feel like spring is coming.  It was even better the next day when we had leftovers for lunch.

cabbage soup

Adapted from Bon Appetit. Recipe can be found here.


1/2 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon lemon juice, fresh

1-2 large pinches of lemon zest (I’m obsessed with lemon zest, so you might want to go with 1 to taste)

1/2 medium head of green cabbage, chopped

4 medium leeks (white and light green part only), chopped

3 garlic cloves

1 1/4 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes

Rind from Parmesan cheese, roughly the size of a silver dollar

1 bay leaf

6 cups of chicken broth

butter for cooking

olive oil for cooking


First make the topping: mix together the sour cream, lemon juice, and zest.  If you don’t think you’ll eat all the soup right away, just make enough to dollop on however many bowls you want — for G and I, this recipe made enough for 4 large bowls of soup.  Cover the topping with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you’re cooking the soup.

In a soup pot, melt a pat of butter and some olive oil on medium to high heat.  When butter is hot, add the cabbage, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the cabbage is soft.  It’s done when it starts to slightly brown on the edges.  When it’s done, remove about a cup to save for garnish later.

Peel and lightly smash the garlic cloves. Add them, along with another pat of butter and the leeks to the pot.  Cook until the leeks are slightly soft.  Add the potatoes, Parm rind, bay leaf, and the chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Once it’s come to a boil turn dow the heat and simmer covered for about 25 minutes.

Turn off the heat, get out a blender, take out the Parm rind and bay leaf.  Pour some soup into the blender, puree, and then pour it into a large bowl (big enough to hold all the soup).  Do this in stages (you’ll have to, unless you have super blender) until it’s all pureed, then pour the pureed soup back into the soup pot and reheat and season to taste.

Now it’s ready to go!  Serve in bowls with the cabbage garnish, a dollop of the lemon cream, and a crack of fresh pepper.

hearth loaf bread

March 20, 2011

[warning March Madness spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the UNC-Washington game!]

What could be better than drinking a strong cup of coffee, reading the newspaper, and writing a blog post on a rainy Sunday morning?  Well, we can add watching basketball to that list (how tense is the UNC -Washington game right now??).  And eating homemade toast.

Just like UNC at minute 2:05, I’m back in the game…the bread making game.  Yesterday it felt so good to take the time to make a loaf. I haven’t done it in a while.  It seems the last couple of months have been super hectic. I need to make a quarter-year resolution to take the time to make bread, at least once a week.

This is my first loaf from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible.  G gave me this beautiful book a long time ago, but it’s the first time I’ve made bread from it because I haven’t had instant yeast. Well now I do, and I also have two bags of beautiful King Arthur flour (unbleached bread flour and 100% whole wheat flour).  Everyone says it’s the best, but I have only now tried it…and I totally recommend it.  It’s always hard for me to tell what exactly I did to make a loaf come out right, especially when it’s been a while, because there are so many steps involved.  Was it because the bread rose in the right temperature? Did I finally knead it enough? Was the oven a little hotter than normal? Etc Etc.  Maybe it was all of these, but the flour must have been a factor because I think this one of the best loaf breads I’ve made.

(5.4 seconds: 83-84 UNC! Madness!)

Diving into a new bread book, I like to try a basic recipe first.  This is the first in her hearth bread section. You can make it as a round free-form loaf or form it into a loaf pan. I chose the loaf pan, and it comes out as a hearty, yet soft and slightly chewy loaf, which is definitely the best sandwich bread I’ve made.  I also left it out to cool overnight, with a towel covering it. This was more for convenience, since I didn’t finish the bread until midnight, but G thinks it helped with the soft texture of the bread. Oh man, oh man! Make it!

(and UNC moves on…good for my bracket, although my heart was with the Huskies)

PS: Michigan sucks!

hearth loaf bread

adapted from “Basic Hearth Bread” in Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible


2 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons bread flour

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

3/8 teaspoon plus 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

1 1/4 teaspoons honey

1 1/3 cups water at 70-90 degrees F

1 1/2 teaspoons salt


First you have to make a sponge. I think a sponge is kind of like a starter, but doesn’t develop for as long. To make the sponge whisk together 1 cup of the bread flour, the whole wheat flour, 3/8 teaspoon of the yeast, the honey and the water in a large mixing bowl — if you plan ahead, which I didn’t, you can do this in the bowl of your mixer, saving you a bowl to wash. Cover with plastic wrap as you do the next step.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining bread flour, the rest of the yeast, and the salt.  Pour this mixture over the first mixture, covering it completely.  Don’t mix it in. You can see from the picture above that as you let it sit the wetter mixture might bubble up through the dry, and that’s ok!  Recover with plastic wrap and let it sit for an hour or more.

After you’ve let the sponge sit, pour the sponge into your mixer bowl (or just put it in the mixer if you started with this). Mix with the dough hook on low speed for a minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rest for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, mix on medium speed with the dough hook for 7 minutes. Put the dough ball in a bowl oiled with olive oil, push it down, and cover it with olive oil and the bowl with plastic wrap. Let sit for about an hour, until it has doubled in size.

After an hour, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, gently shape it into a rectangle–not pushing out too much air–and fold it like a business letter (ie. in thirds).  Then turn it length-wise and fold that rectangle into a business letter.  Put back in the oiled bowl, oil the top of the dough, re-plastic wrap the bowl, and let it sit for another hour.

After this second rise, oil or cooking spray your loaf pan.  Turn the dough out again onto a lightly floured surface and shape it into a rectangle. Fold it into a business fold, pushing down the creases as you go to make it smooth. Then turn the dough toward you so it is lenghwise.  Take the long end and roll it toward you, pushing the bottom of the roll into the dough below, and keep rolling — ie. you’re rolling the dough toward you, with each roll tucking it into the dough to make it smooth.  When you get to the end (about three rolls or so) push the end into the dough to make it smooth and tuck in the two side ends.  Roll the log back and forth to make it a big longer and put it in the loaf pan, pushing it down a bit.  If all of this is confusing (next time I’ll take pictures!) just do your best to form it into something that looks like a loaf!

Cover the loaf plan loosely with oiled plastic wrap and let rise for an hour to an hour and a half. You ideally want the dough to rise above the loaf pan…mine barely did, but it came out well!

After about an hour into this rise, place a baking sheet on the lowest rack of your oven and another loaf pan, cast iron skillet, or other oven proof pan, on the floor of the oven. Preheat to 475.  You want it to be hot hot hot before you put in the loaf.

When the loaf is ready, spray it with water and score it down the middle (about a quarter inch deep). Put three ice cubes in the pan on the floor of the oven, quickly put the loaf pan on the baking sheet, spray your oven with water, and shut the door. After 10 minutes, reduce the temperature to 425. Bake for about 20 more minutes. The bread is done when it is golden brown and sounds hollow when you tap the bottom. Let it cool on a rack.


March 19, 2011

I think it was at Bar La Grassa that G and I had a barbera wine recently. I can’t remember the exact wine we had, but the next time we were in the liquor store we asked for some recommendations.  Barbera is generally Italian, but we went home with this Il Cuore  2006 California bottle. Oh and I’m glad we did.  I drank it a few weeks ago while G was out of town and it was so good I had to get it again so he could try it.  We opened it on Wednesday when my mom was visiting.  It really is delicious, especially for around $13.  It is fairly dark in color and full and fruity, but without being sweet. We drank it with cheese and salami. And for those who want to know, the Il Cuore barbera grapes are grown in gravely soil in Lake and Mendocino counties — an article on the top sommeliers of 2011 in this month’s Food and Wine magazine inspires me to pay more attention to details like this.

dried blueberry scones

January 30, 2011

Hello everyone!  My belated New Year’s resolution is to get back to this. I have been cooking, but, alas, not posting.  Hopefully over the next week or so I will catch up on some of the big moments of the last two months (we’ll go back to Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve!) but for now, here are the scones I made yesterday morning.



For my birthday, I got a wonderful book as a present from wonderful friends called The Modern Baker by Nick Malgieri.  I highly recommend it, especially for the pictures and detailed information, although this is the only recipe I’ve used from it so far.  A while ago I made my first attempt at scones (strawberry scones for Father’s Day) and while they were delicious they lacked the dryness of traditional scones.  These scones from The Modern Baker (called “Real Welsh Scones) fit the bill: dry, yet buttery, and not too sweet.  I added dried blueberries to the batter, which I got at Costco.  Dried blueberries are great, because they are kind of like currants (ie. small) but with a tarter and, obviously, blueberry flavor. I would definitely recommend trying it out! What’s also great about these scones is that they can be ready to eat in about a half and hour (or 45 minutes if you’re slow in the morning like me…).









dried blueberry scones

adapted from “Real Welsh Scone” in The Modern Baker by Nick Malgieri


2 1/4 cups of flour

1/3 cup of sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 stick of cold butter (unsalted)

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup dried blueberries


Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Using a food processor with the metal blade, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, cream of tartar, and salt for a couple of pulses.  Add the butter by cutting the stick into about 12 pieces and letting them fall into the bowl.  Pulse until the mixture is mealy and dry (about 30 seconds).

Add the mixture to a mixing bowl.  In a separate small bowl whisk the egg and milk. Slowly add this to the flour/butter mixture, mixing it in with a fork while you go.  Keep mixing until it is mostly moist.  You’ll probably need to use your hands to bring it all together in one ball.

Turn it out onto a slightly floured surface and knead it a few times to bring it together and to make the dough smooth, but don’t over work it.  Divide in half and form each half into a roughly 6-inch disk.  Put both on a foiled cookie sheet.

Use a knife to cut each disk into wedges, but only go about half way through the disk (you’re basically scoring it).  I cut each disk into 8 wedges, but for bigger scones do 4. After they will bake you will cut them all the way.  Cook in the oven for about 15 minutes. The recipes says 12-15, but it took more like 20-25 in my oven. I think it’s because my oven is pretty off.  Basically you want them to be pretty golden brown on top and solid on the top (not springy when you touch them).

When they are done take them out and cut them along the score lines you made and eat them!  (I prefer them with butter, but they’d be good with jam too.)  Note: if you cut them and they don’t seem quite done in the middle, just stick them back in the oven.

carrot banana bread

October 24, 2010

This might sound weird, but there is something really relaxing about Saturday mornings when you have company for the weekend.  I feel like it breaks up my usual weekend morning of checking email, getting organized, etc and all I have to focus on is having a good conversation over coffee and making breakfast.  I had a particularly wonderful Saturday morning last weekend when G’s parents came to visit.  They went out early for a walk, and by the time they got back I had a loaf of carrot banana bread baking in the oven (and some coffee in the french press).

This is a really easy bread to make, and especially great if you have extra carrots to use up.  Usually it’s just carrot bread, but I had an extra over-ripe banana so I thought I’d throw it in and voila…excellent idea!  It’s a great bread for making Saturday morning because it makes your house smell delicious and you can keep munching on it all day.  The only downside is that it takes an hour plus in the oven.  Definitely try it toasted with butter, but it’s good plain too.

carrot banana bread


2 cups flour

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

5 tablespoons sugar

1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup oats

3 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups grated carrots

1 banana, the more ripe the better

1/4-1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil

a handful or two of almonds


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a loaf pan with butter or Pam spray.

Mix the flour, brown sugar, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a large mixing bowl.  Stir in the oats.

In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs and vanilla.  Add in the banana.  Then add the egg, vanilla, banana mixture to the dry ingredients mixture.  Gently mix in the carrots.  The mixture might be a little dry so slowly add in the oil until it is a wet enough consistency.  Finally mix in the almonds.

Put mixture in loaf pan and cook for about an hour and 15 minutes.  Definitely check at the 1 hour mark.  The loaf will be done when you test it with a toothpick and it comes out clean.