Basic Bread

bread fresh form the oven.

Let’s face it, everyone loves homemade bread. Just the scent of baking bread is enough to make people salivate and remember their childhoods. And it’s no wonder: as one of our oldest foods, bread is that one magical food that brings forth joy like no other. For those who have had homemade bread, our question to you is why would you ever settle for store-bought? We bet you said that homemade bread is “too difficult,” “inconsistent rising,” “crumbly,” or most likely, “takes too much time.”

Bah, humbug! We’re going to tell you how to make GREAT bread at home – easily, and it’ll taste better than anything you can get at the store in plastic wrap. This will be gourmet bread! Now, for great bread it will take time. Not too much of your time, but time for the yeast to work. Your time spent is about an hour of hands-on work, but it is well worth it. Trust us, this bread is so good, we bake three loaves at least once a week. It seems like a lot to do, but once you get the hang of it, there really isn’t that much to it.

However, there are a few special items that we strongly recommend purchasing.

One, a kitchen scale, that measures in grams and has a capacity of about 5 kilograms. Using a scale will make your bread consistent! It’ll be the same from week to week, month to month, and year to year. It took us over twenty years of baking bread off and on until we got a kitchen scale. We would never give it up!

Two, a cast iron “combo dutch oven skillet set.” This is the easiest way to get that crisp but chewy crust that everyone wants in bread. It also nearly guarantees having that “oven spring” that makes your bread go from lead-lump loaf to airy-light loaf. It is just amazing how much difference the combo cooker makes.

Now we got this recipe, starter, and some great tips when we took a class offered by Barrio Bread, and we learned about the technique of using a cast iron dutch oven from Tartine by Chad Robertson (which also shows how to make your own starter).

Basic Bread

Basic Bread

Ingredients

  • 150 grams Whole Wheat flour (~1 1/4 cup)
  • 850 grams Bread flour (~6 1/3 cups)
  • 360 grams sour dough starter (~2 cups)
  • 18 grams salt (~1 Tbs)
  • 680 grams water ( ~3 cups)

Abbreviated Instructions

First, make next week's starter

Measure 200 grams of starter (~1 cup) into a clean container that has a lid.

Add 75 grams (scant 2/3 cup) of whole wheat flour. Add 75 grams (~1/2 cup) of bread flour. Add 150 grams (2/3 cup) of lukewarm water.

Stir until the consistency of a thick pancake batter. Cover and let sit on the counter about 1 hour. Put back in the refrigerator, as this is your batch of starter for next week.

Feed this week’s starter

From the original starter, remove and discard starter until you have 200 grams (~1 cup) remaining.

Add 75 grams (scant 2/3 cup) of whole wheat flour. Add 75 grams (~1/2 cup) of bread flour. Add 150 grams (2/3 cup) of lukewarm water.

Cover and let sit on the counter about 1-2 hours, or until it has about doubled in bulk.

Now make Bread dough

Measure 680 grams (3 cups) tepid water.

In another bowl measure out 150 grams (1 1/4 cups) of whole wheat flour and 850 grams (6 1/3 cups) of bread flour.

In a small bowl measure out 18-25g (~ 1Tbs) salt.

Once your starter is ready, add 360 grams (~ 2 cups) of the starter to the water and mix until mostly dissolved.

Add most of the flour mixture, but keep back about 1/2 to 3/4 cup for kneading. Mix until combined.

Sprinkle the salt on top, and cover with plastic wrap or plate. Let sit 20-30 minutes.

Fold in the salt and scoop the dough onto a floured work surface. Knead for 5 minutes. Rest 5 minutes. Repeat the kneading resting cycle 4-5 times.

Now that you’ve kneaded the dough, shape it into a ball and put in a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap or plate.

Let the dough go through a “bulk rise” lasting 4-8 hours, depending on the temperature.

After the dough has doubled in bulk, you’ll want to divide it into three equal pieces of about 680 grams each.

Shape each piece into a ball by pulling the dough from the sides to the bottom until you have a nice smooth ball. The dough you pulled down should be pressed together to form a rough seam.

Place each ball on a floured board (we use a cutting board), loosely cover with plastic wrap or damp towel, and let sit for 1-2 hours.

While waiting, line three baskets (or colanders, or something that’s a bit porous) with clean dish towels and dust with flour.

Once the dough has doubled in size, just like the pre-shape, work the dough under and pinch it together, keeping a nice smooth surface on top.

Place each ball smooth side down in the prepared baskets, dust lightly with flour and cover with part of the dish towel (or another towel) and put it in the refrigerator overnight.

The next morning, take the dough from the refrigerator about 1-2 hours before you plan to bake and let it begin warming.

About 30 minutes before you want to bake, place the dutch oven in your oven and preheat to 450°F.

Remove the skillet lid from the oven, and place a ball of dough in the middle, so that the seam side is down.

Slash the top with a razor blade or sharp knife to form a tic-tac-toe pattern.

Place the dutch oven on top of the skillet lid, and bake 20 minutes.

Remove dutch oven cover and bake an additional 20 minutes.

http://scratchinit.halversen.com/2012/11/basic-bread/

Ingredients: [volume measurements are estimates]

  • 150 grams Whole Wheat flour (~1 1/4 cup)
  • 850 grams Bread flour (~6 1/3 cups)
  • 360 grams sour dough starter (~2 cups)
  • 18 grams salt (~1 Tbs)
  • 680 grams water ( ~3 cups)

Ingredients discussion: Don’t skimp on the flour. This bread has only three ingredients: flour, water, and salt (and wild yeast that’s in the starter), so the choice of flour will make a difference. We heartily recommend using King Arthur flours. Yes, King Arthur is more expensive than some other brands, but it’s better. We know, we’ve tried to skimp. Besides, even at $5.00 per bag of flour, each large loaf costs about 90 cents.

With regards to the sourdough starter, if you have some, great; if not, you can substitute a poolish (see note at the end of this post), although the rising times will be shorter. Or, if you’re up for it and are willing to bake about once a week, you can try making your own. We recommend looking at the book Tartine by Chad Robertson for instructions. Or maybe you have an artisan baker in your area who makes naturally leavened bread and would be willing to supply you with a starter – that’s how we got ours.

Procedure:

First off, we need to prep the starter. If you are using a poolish, you can skip these steps and go to the part about adding the starter to the water. We are going to both split and feed the starter, as this will allow us to have starter for this batch of bread and the next. With care, you can keep a starter going indefinitely.

sourdough starter
Measure out 200 grams of starter into a clean container. This will be for next week’s baking.

First, make next week’s starter.

Measure 200 grams of starter (~1 cup) into a clean container that has a lid. We use a 1-quart yogurt container.

Add 75 grams (scant 2/3 cup) of whole wheat flour.

Add 75 grams (~1/2 cup) of bread flour.

Add 150 grams (2/3 cup) of lukewarm water.

 

refreshed starter
Here’s the refreshed starter for next week.

Stir. Stir until the consistency of a thick pancake batter. Cover and let sit on the counter about 1 hour. Put back in the refrigerator, as this is your batch of starter for next week.

Feed this week’s starter. From the original starter, remove and discard starter until you have 200 grams (~1 cup) remaining. In our case, we tared the scale with a similar container, so we removed and discarded starter until we were left with 200 grams total. If, like us, you hate to see the starter go to waste, make sourdough pancakes. We’ve provided the recipe.

Add 75 grams whole wheat flour. Now, just as with the starter you are saving for next week, add 75 grams of whole wheat flour (scant 2/3 cup).

Add 75 grams of bread flour (~1/2 cup).

Add 150 grams of lukewarm water (2/3 cup).

Stir. Stir until the consistency of a thick pancake batter.

Cover and let sit on the counter about 1-2 hours, or until it has about doubled in bulk. Now you have starter primed and ready for bread making. (You can also check to see if it is ready by putting a small bit in a dish of water. If it floats, you’re good to go.)

680 grams water
Measure out 680 grams of water into a 4 quart bowl.

Measure 680 grams (3 cups) water. While you’re waiting on the starter, measure out 680 grams of water into a large (about 4 quart) bowl. Use cool to tepid water.

In another bowl measure out 150 grams (1 1/4 cups) of whole wheat flour.

a kilogram of flour
For this recipe, you’ll want a kilogram of flour total.

Add 850g (6 1/3 cups) of bread flour; we just add bread flour until we get 1000g (1kg) total flour.

Now, measure out 18-25g (~1 Tbs) of salt into another container. We just use the measuring cup that we used for scooping flour.

starter and water
Scoop in the 360 grams of starter. This is where the tare function on your scale comes in handy.

Add the starter to the water. When your starter is ready, add 360 grams (~ 2 cups) of the starter to the water. Here we use the tare function of the kitchen scale. We put the container of starter on the scale, tare it, and scoop out starter until we reach -360 grams. Discard the remaining starter (or make sourdough pancakes).

Mix the starter into the water until it is mostly dissolved.

Add most of the flour mixture, but keep back about 1/2 to 3/4 cup for kneading. Mix until combined.

Dough and salt.
Don’t mix the salt in quite yet; you want the flour, water, and starter to work a bit first.

Sprinkle the salt on top, and cover with plastic wrap or plate. Let sit 20-30 minutes.

Okay, now for the hard part. Fold in the salt and scoop the dough onto a floured work surface.

starting to knead the dough
Knead the dough five minutes, rest five minutes. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And repeat.

Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, incorporating more flour as necessary to prevent it from sticking to the surface. Rather than watch the time, we do 300 folds and turns. Yes, we do count them.

Shape dough into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Let it and you rest 5 minutes.

Time’s up! So knead for another 5 minutes. Shape and cover 5 minutes. Do this 4 times until the dough becomes supple and smooth. Don’t skimp on the kneading or resting. That’s what develops the gluten to make a nice, somewhat chewy, bread texture.

Kneaded dough getting ready for the bulk rise.

Put the dough in a bowl. Now that you’ve kneaded the dough, shape it into a ball and put in a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap or plate.

You are going to let the dough go through a “bulk rise” lasting 4-8 hours, depending on the temperature. Here you can run errands, do laundry, etc., and pretty much ignore the dough, but if you are around you should do a “stretch and fold” every 1-2 hours – basically grab an edge, stretch the dough up and fold it over, then grab the opposite side, do the same, and then, with the sides offset by 90°, flip the dough over and dust with flour.

Dividing the dough into three equal pieces for the boules.

Divide the dough. After the dough has doubled in bulk, you’ll want to divide it into three equal pieces of about 680 grams each.

starting the pre-shape
Starting the pre-shaping of the dough.

Pre-shape the dough. Shape each piece into a ball by pulling the dough from the sides to the bottom until you have a nice smooth ball. The dough you pulled down should be pressed together to form a rough seam. This is the pre-shape. (The photo shows the beginning of the pre-shape, before we’ve flipped over the ball of dough).

Pre-shaped dough, rising on a board.

Place each ball on a floured board (we use a cutting board), loosely cover with plastic wrap or damp towel, and let sit for 1-2 hours.

Get some baskets ready. While waiting, line three baskets (or colanders, or something that’s a bit porous) with clean dish towels and dust with flour.

dough ready for the final rising.
Dough ready for the final rising.

Do the final shape. Once the dough has doubled in size, you’ll note that it collapsed and spread out a bit, too, so now we’ll want to do what’s called the final shape. Basically just like the pre-shape, work the dough under and pinch it together, keeping a nice smooth surface on top.

Place each ball smooth side down in the prepared baskets, dust lightly with flour and cover with part of the dish towel (or another towel).

dough in a basket
Dough in a towel-lined basket, ready for the final rising.

If your house is cool (say, below 70°F) you might want to leave the dough out overnight; otherwise, put it in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, take the dough out of the refrigerator about 1-2 hours before you plan to bake and let it begin warming on your work surface. It should have risen nicely.

Preheat the oven and pans. About 30 minutes before you want to bake, place the dutch oven in your oven and preheat to 450°F. We normally let the oven cycle twice to make sure the cast iron dutch oven is hot.

dough on the hot pan
Dough on the hot pan. Be careful!

Put the bread on the pan. Remove the skillet lid from the oven, and place a ball of dough in the middle, so that the seam side is down.

slashed dough
Slash the dough in a tic-tac-toe pattern. This allows the dough to open up and “spring” in the oven. Otherwise, you’ll have a dense loaf.

Slash the top with a razor blade or sharp knife to form a tic-tac-toe pattern. We use a double-sided razor blade attached to a coffee stirrer. A lot of people panic and try to work quickly, but don’t. You’ll get burned, and, besides, there’s no rush. You want to slash the dough so you get that oven spring. Place the dutch oven on top of the skillet lid, and place the whole thing back in the oven.

After 20 minutes, the bread has really opened up, and is starting to look good.

Bake 20 minutes. Note how the bread has opened up along the slashes.

Bake 20 minutes more. Remove dutch oven cover and bake an additional 20 minutes.

Remove bread and place on rack to cool. If you tap on the bottom, it should sound hollow. Repeat the same baking procedures with the remaining two loaves.

bread fresh form the oven.
Fresh bread right out of the oven. Yum.

Enjoy some of the best bread you’ve had. And you scratched it yourself!

Variations:

During the summer, we generally switch to making rolls and/or pita bread and we change the bulk rising a bit. For the rising, after the kneading is complete, we put the dough back in the mixing bowl, cover it, and let it sit for about an hour. Then we do one stretch and fold, re-cover the dough and put it in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours (sometimes we bake the next day, sometimes not). We like to get the dough out of the refrigerator 1-2 hours before we’ll be shaping.

The reason for the rolls and pita bread is that they bake quickly, and, besides, they’re a bit different from the standard boules. For the rolls, we happen to have a couple of cast iron muffin pans that work wonders with this dough – if you have cast iron pans, you’re in for a treat. If not, you might try baking them on greased cookie sheets or a pizza stone. After a bit of experimentation, we found that measuring out 40 grams of dough per roll is perfect for our muffin pans, so we cut off the dough and shape small rolls and place them on a floured cutting board. Cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise for about 30-45 minutes, then remove the damp cloth so the top part of the roll will dry out a bit. Preheat the oven and cast iron muffin pans to 450°F. It should take about 30 minutes to get those cast iron pans super hot! When hot, take out the muffin pans, load each compartment with a ball of dough, and snip with a kitchen shears. Pop them back in the oven for 15 minutes. Note: with a seasoned cast iron pan, no greasing is necessary; with other pans, you might need a bit of oil to prevent sticking.

Pita breads are even easier, although you do need a pizza or baking stone. This time, measure off and shape dough balls that are about 100 grams each, place them on a floured board, and cover them with a damp cloth. Let rest 15 minutes, then pre-shape them into disks and re-cover with the damp cloth. Now, place the baking stone on the lowest rack and preheat the oven to 450°F for about 30 minutes. Once hot, take a dough disk, and roll it out until it’s about 7 inches in diameter and 1/4 inch thick. Place directly on the hot stone and quickly close the oven door. In about 3-4 minutes, it’ll puff up like a ball. Once it is fully puffed, wait 60 seconds (we count it off) and remove the pita to cool. When you get the hang of it, you can do 3-4 pitas at the same time and you’ll be finished baking in about 30 minutes.

Poolish: If you don’t have a starter, you can make a poolish (the name is a corruption of Polish; Polish bakers used this a lot) or sponge. Measure out 90 grams (3/4 cup) of whole wheat flour, 90 grams (2/3 cup) of bread flour, and 180 grams (3/4 cup) of cool water into a clean container. Add just a pinch of yeast, and stir until you have something resembling thick pancake batter. In about 2 hours, it should have doubled in size. Use this as your sourdough starter.

Worth the trouble?

Potatoes Gratin

This recipe will make you into the rock star of the kitchen. It is that good; we think it’s the best Potatoes Gratin recipe on the planet. Most people think they need to add cheese to make a gratin dish; this recipe shows them that they are wrong, way wrong. The cream with the slight bay flavor pairs just perfectly with the potatoes, and the thyme is just enough to add that little something. We really wish that we could give credit where credit is due, but, unfortunately, we’ve forgotten where we found this recipe.

Dec 5: This recipe came from In the Green Kitchen by Alice Waters.

Please, please, before you start making changes, try it just as it is.

Serves 6

Potatoes Gratin

Potatoes Gratin

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 2 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup homemade vegetable stock (or liquid from rehydrating the mushrooms)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 Tbs kosher salt
  • 4 pounds medium-size Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1 Tbs chopped thyme
  • Fresh-ground black pepper
  • 2 drops liquid smoke (optional)
  • 1 ounce dried Porcini mushrooms (optional)

Abbreviated Instructions

If you’re using dried Porcini mushrooms, put them in a small bowl and cover with about a cup of boiling water. Let stand for about 45 minutes. Then drain, reserving the liquid, to use in place of the stock. Cut the mushrooms into small pieces.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Butter a 9x13x2-inch baking dish.

Put the cream, bay leaf, salt, stock or mushroom liquid, and liquid smoke, if using, in a medium pan and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer, reduce heat to low and let steep while you prepare the potatoes.

Peel the potatoes, then cut into 1/8 inch thick slices. Work quickly, but safely, so the potatoes don’t oxidize and turn brown. Do not put the potatoes in water; it will wash away the starches that make the gratin creamy.

Place the potatoes in the baking dish, overlapping slightly, so it looks kind of like roof shingles. If you are using mushrooms, sprinkle pieces between each layer of potatoes.

Remove the bay leaf, and gently pour the cream over the potatoes.

Dot with butter. Just cut the butter into small pieces and place each piece on top of the potatoes, trying to get them somewhat evenly distributed. Cover tightly with foil.

Bake covered until the potatoes are almost tender, about 35 minutes. You should be able to pierce the potatoes moderately easily with a small sharp knife.

Increase the temperature to 400°F. Remove the foil, press the potatoes down with a spatula into an even thickness, allowing the creamy juices to baste the potatoes. Sprinkle the thyme and black pepper on top. Continue to bake, pressing the potatoes down periodically, until the gratin is nicely browned, about 30 minutes.

Let stand 5 minutes. Remove the gratin from the oven. It’ll be a little loose and creamy at this point; that’s okay, it’ll thicken a bit more while standing.

http://scratchinit.halversen.com/2012/11/potatoes-gratin/

Ingredients:

  • 3 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 2 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup homemade vegetable stock (or liquid from rehydrating the mushrooms)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 Tbs kosher salt
  • 4 pounds medium-size Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1 Tbs chopped thyme
  • Fresh-ground black pepper
  • 2 drops liquid smoke (optional)
  • 1 ounce dried Porcini mushrooms (optional)

Ingredient discussion: The stock is really there just to add a bit more liquid and not necessarily flavor. If you’ve saved the cooking liquids from various vegetables, you can use that. Or, as we’ll show, just use the liquid that is left over from rehydrating the Porcini mushrooms. Don’t try to substitute milk for the cream, nor half-and-half. Neither will propel you into kitchen rock stardom. If you can, use fresh thyme. And, be extra, extra careful if you use liquid smoke. You want just the slightest hint of a smoky taste; you’re not smoking fish here.

Procedure:

porcinin mushrooms rehydrating
Pour boiling water over the dried mushrooms to rehydrate. Do not discard the soaking water.

Rehydrate the mushrooms. If you’re using dried Porcini mushrooms, put them in a small bowl and cover with about a cup of boiling water. Let stand for about 45 minutes. Then drain, reserving the liquid, to use in place of the stock. Cut the mushrooms into small pieces. We use a pair of kitchen shears, which works nicely.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

buttered baking dish
You’ll want to butter a shallow baking dish. This will maximize the surface area to concentrate all that delicious creamy goodness.

Butter a 9x13x2-inch baking dish. If you have a gratin dish, use that; after all it’s made for gratins. We don’t have one, so we do what we can. When you butter the dish, use about 1 tablespoon of butter. A little more or less won’t matter.

cream, stock and bay leaf.
It already smells and tastes good. Just wait until it’s finished!

Heat the cream. Put the cream, bay leaf, salt, stock or mushroom liquid, and liquid smoke, if using, in a medium pan and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer, reduce heat to low and let steep while you prepare the potatoes. Try not to taste it at this stage, but honestly, we always do.

Prepare the potatoes. Peel the potatoes, then cut into 1/8 inch thick slices. If you have one, use a mandolin (careful) or a food processor with a slicing blade. Otherwise, use a knife and try to make the slices uniform in thickness. Work quickly, but safely, so the potatoes don’t oxidize and turn brown. Do not put the potatoes in water; it will wash away the starches that make the gratin creamy. You don’t want potatoes in cream sauce, which, while good, is not a gratin.

potatoes and mushrooms layered in a baking dish
Layer the potatoes as best you can. If using mushrooms, layer those in, too.

Layer the potatoes. Place the potatoes in the baking dish, overlapping slightly, so it looks kind of like roof shingles. If you are using mushrooms, sprinkle pieces between each layer of potatoes. The potatoes you’ve sliced should make 3 to 4 layers.

potatoes and cream
A nice side shot to show the level of the cream mixture before placing in the oven.

Pour in the cream. Remove the bay leaf, and gently pour the cream over the potatoes. The cream will be just below the top layer of potatoes; when you press the potatoes down, the cream should flow over the top.

potatoes gratin dotted with butter
Put dots of butter across the potatoes; this is one of the things that will make them brown.

Dot with butter. You only used one tablespoon of butter for the pan, so the rest goes on top. Just cut the butter into small pieces and place each piece on top of the potatoes, trying to get them somewhat evenly distributed. Cover tightly with foil.

potatoes gratin with pepper and thyme
Ohh, that’s looking good, and it just gets better and better.

Bake until almost tender. Bake covered until the potatoes are almost tender, about 35 minutes. You should be able to pierce the potatoes moderately easily with a small sharp knife.

Increase the temperature to 400°F. Remove the foil, press the potatoes down with a spatula into an even thickness, allowing the creamy juices to baste the potatoes. Sprinkle the thyme and black pepper on top. Continue to bake, pressing the potatoes down periodically, until the gratin is nicely browned, about 30 minutes.

perfect potatoes gratin
Wow! If there is anyone who doesn’t like this dish, eject them physically from the table. Politely, of course, so as not to disturb the other diners.

Let stand 5 minutes. Remove the gratin from the oven. It’ll be a little loose and creamy at this point; that’s okay, it’ll thicken a bit more while standing. After five minutes or so, the potatoes should have absorbed some more of the cream, and you’ll be ready to serve.

Serve and bask in your kitchen rock star glory. Heck, break out a glass of wine, if you indulge. You deserve it for dishes like this. I think once you taste this, you’ll know why it gets the five-star rating. And remember, keep this one for those special dinners when you really want to impress.

Worth the trouble?

Chocolate Molten Lava Cakes

Ahh, just the name sounds good. Let’s say it together. Ready, one, two, three: Chocolate Molten Lava Cakes. Doesn’t it sound good?

Well, these are not just good, but wonderful. A nice solid chocolate flavor, a light crust around the “lava,” and when warm, it pairs so nicely with ice cream. Anything this good is a bugbear to make, right? Nope. They are way too easy for something this good. We made these up for dessert on Saturday night and they took all of 30 minutes, including baking. Yes, that easy. This particular recipe, like many of the dessert recipes lately, comes from Dorie Greenspan‘s, Baking, From my Home to Yours. If you want to make great desserts, we highly recommend checking out this tome; we got it from our local library.

We’ll post something like the original recipe for six, although we did leave off the finely chopped chocolate. For us, we cut it back to make just two cakes; it wasn’t too much of a problem since we had another use for the leftover eggs.

Serves 6

Chocolate Molten Lava Cakes

Chocolate Molten Lava Cakes

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tbs cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 stick (8 Tbs) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
  • 6 Tbs sugar

Abbreviated Instructions

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Butter and flour 6 cups of a muffin tin.

Sift together salt, flour, and cocoa.

Melt the chocolate and butter together. We used our microwave at 30% power and checked often.

Whisk the eggs. Whisk until blended. Add the sugar, and whisk until that is thoroughly blended in, about 2 minutes.

Use the whisk and gently stir in the cocoa/flour/salt mixture.

Still using the whisk, stir in the chocolate/butter mixture.

Divide the batter among the cups.

Bake 13 minutes then cool 3 minutes. Once the 3 minutes are up, turn the cakes out on a piece of parchment paper, and, with a wide spatula, transfer to plates or bowls.

http://scratchinit.halversen.com/2012/11/chocolate-molten-lava-cakes/

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tbs cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 stick (8 Tbs) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
  • 6 Tbs sugar

Ingredient discussion: Chocolate: use the best. This recipe is all about chocolate; it’s the only flavor, for Pete’s sake, so do not skimp.

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 400°F.

floured pyrex cups
Floured Pyrex cups awaiting the chocolate goodness.

Butter and flour 6 cups of a muffin tin. We happen to have a couple of 6-ounce Pyrex baking cups that worked just perfectly. We buttered them up well, put in some flour, shook it all around, and tapped out the excess.

Sift together salt, flour, and cocoa. Cocoa is often a bit lumpy, so you really need to break out the sifter. If you don’t have one, and you really want to try this recipe, try whisking together the flour, salt, and cocoa. Whisk until it’s a uniform color and all the cocoa lumps are gone.

Chocolate and butter
Butter and chocolate at the ready. Soon it’ll be nice and melty.

Melt the chocolate and butter together. The original recipe calls for putting them in a heatproof bowl over simmering water. We used our microwave at 30% power and checked often. According to Dorie, you don’t want the butter to separate. Once melted, stir the butter and chocolate together. Now, to the untrained eye, these may look like chocolate chips, and they are; however, they are definitely not Nestle — they are Callebaut, a really tasty Belgian chocolate.

whisking eggs
Whisk the eggs with vigor. You might as well, we did because we were so anxious to try out this dessert.

Whisk the eggs. Whisk until blended. Add the sugar, and whisk until that is thoroughly blended in, about 2 minutes.

Stir in the dry ingredients. Use the whisk and gently stir in the cocoa/flour/salt mixture. Try to think Zen-like thoughts; it’ll keep you on an even keel and prevent you from whisking like a whirling dervish — assuming they whisk.

Molten lava cake batter
Molten lava cake batter ready to hit the pan. We know, it looks good enough to eat now, but it gets better.

Stir in the chocolate. Still using the whisk, stir in the chocolate/butter mixture. It’ll be harder to think Zen-like thoughts because of the scent of the chocolate, but try. Soon you’ll get to have a taste of the batter. Very soon.

batter in the Pyrex cups
The batter evenly distributed between the two Pyrex cups and ready for the oven.

Divide the batter among the cups. If there is a smidge left in the bowl, just lick it up when no one is watching. We won’t tell.

Bake 13 minutes. Yep, lucky 13. After you have this dessert, you will never look at the number 13 the same way. When the 13 minutes are up, remove from the oven and…

cooling lava cakes
The hardest part. Having to wait those 3 minutes before digging in.

…cool 3 minutes. Once the 3 minutes are up, turn the cakes out on a piece of parchment paper, and, with a wide spatula, transfer to plates or bowls.

molten lava cake with ice cream
Lava oozing out of the cake. Yummilicious.

Serve with vanilla ice cream. Only vanilla will do. Your favorite vanilla, in fact.

This recipe is a real keeper; it definitely deserves its well-earned 5 stars. After all, it was easy, and we’ll be using this recipe every time we want chocolate molten lava cakes.

Worth the trouble?

This Week’s Produce

CSA produce and more
CSA produce and more
Our haul from the CSA. This was a cheese week, so we also received a log of fresh goat cheese, and we purchased a dozen truly free-range eggs (we’ve met the chickens).

Yesterday afternoon we picked up our CSA produce, and even though it is fall, we are still getting summer squash, but we can tell we are heading into the cooler months as we are starting to see greens pretty much every week. Altogether we received:

  • Summer squash (2)
  • Arugula (1 bunch)
  • Sweet potatoes (3)
  • Butternut squash (1)
  • Yellow onion (1)
  • Black beans (~ 1lb)
  • Eggplant (3)
  • Green tomatoes (~3-4)
  • Fresh goat cheese

Now if you’re observant you’ll note that we seem to have more than three eggplants in the photo and the green tomatoes are nowhere to be seen. Yep, we traded. Our CSA sets up trading baskets to facilitate trades of produce. That way, if there is something you don’t want, you might be able to swap it for something you do like. We did that with the green tomatoes; we have a difficult time using them in a way that we enjoy, so into a trading basket they go, and we get something we like more.

As an aside, the Tucson CSA works with other local food producers allowing us access to things like the fresh goat cheese, the truly free-range eggs, artisan breads, pasture raised meats, seasonal candies, and more, in addition to the naturally grown produce from Crooked Sky Farms.

Naturally, once we see our produce for the week, we start figuring out what to do with it. Some are easy, like the goat cheese, it will make a Tourteau de Chevre (a heavenly cheese cake made from goat cheese) . The black beans are for one of our favorite dishes, Black Beans and Rice. While we have ideas for the others, you’ll have to check back in during the week as we update this post and see how we really do use them.

21 November update: Three of the eggplant and a summer squash from last week went into a batch of ratatouille, basically, a simple tomato and eggplant soup/stew. It’s a quick tasty way of using eggplant, taking only about 40 minutes from start to finish.

22 November update: One summer squash went into a steamed vegetable medley (squash, peas, and broccoli) for lunch, and about half the arugula went into a dinner salad with Gorgonzola and apricot vinaigrette.

Thanksgiving Dinner

Like many people, we have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving day, and, to celebrate our good fortune, we are planning a few special items for dinner, all of them scratched, of course. We also plan to spend time with each other and with friends, so we’ll only be including one recipe from our Thanksgiving Day dinner; it is, however, one of our all-time-best: Potatoes Gratin.

We’ve used it for potlucks, we’ve had it at family gatherings, we’ve eaten it for dinner, and, while we’ve had other potato gratin dishes, none compare to this one. And surprisingly, this one does not use any cheese. Look for it on Friday.

Beets and Walnuts in an Orange-Balsamic sauce

Right up front, we’ll give this recipe 5 stars. This is, hands-down, our favorite way to eat beets, and we prepare them like this almost every time we get beets from the CSA. Even beet-haters like these beets.

This recipe is a modified version of one we found in Denis Cotter’s Wild Garlic, gooseberries, … and me. Our modification is adding a bit of orange juice. The slightly tart orange juice helps to bring out some of the sweetness from the beets, don’t you think? It’s superb either way.

Beets and Walnuts in an Orange-Balsamic sauce

Beets and Walnuts in an Orange-Balsamic sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 lb beets, washed
  • 2 tsp caraway seeds
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 Tbs Balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbs orange juice
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 2 ounces chopped walnuts

Abbreviated Instructions

Boil beets for 20-30 minutes until fork tender.

Run cold water over the beets until you can handle them. Then slip the skins right off.

Mix ingredients. Just mix the vinegar, sugar, orange juice, oil, and caraway seeds in whatever baking dish will hold your beets.

Slice the beets thinly and toss with liquid mixture until all you have coated the beets.

Sprinkle the walnuts over the top.

Bake 40-50 minutes. You should see the beet slices beginning to caramelize towards the end.

http://scratchinit.halversen.com/2012/11/beets-and-walnuts-in-an-orange-balsamic-sauce/

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 lb beets, washed
  • 2 tsp caraway seeds
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 Tbs Balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbs orange juice
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 2 ounces chopped walnuts

Ingredient discussion: Use fresh beets, and good Balsamic vinegar. Remember, the fewer ingredients, the better quality needed.

Procedure:

beets in a pan
Add enough water to cover by an inch and boil until you can pierce the beets with a fork. Then they’ll peel easily.

Boil beets for 20-30 minutes until fork tender. You will be peeling these beets, and this is the easiest way. Trust us; have we ever led you astray?

peeling beets
Peeling beets. Your fingers might get stained a bit, but it’s worth it. Don’t splash on a nice white shirt, though; that might be a toss-up.

Cool the beets. Run cold water over the beets until you can handle them. Then slip the skins right off. You might have a few places that need some encouragement — use the edge of a fork or a fingernail. That’ll do it.

Preheat oven to 350°F

Mix the liquid ingredients and the caraway seeds. We scaled down the amounts to fit our beets.

Mix ingredients. Just mix the vinegar, sugar, orange juice, oil, and caraway seeds in whatever baking dish will hold your beets. We normally use an 8×8-inch baking pan. These first beets of the season were tiny beets so they fit in an individually-size casserole. We scaled down the amount of ingredients, too.

Slice the beets thinly. We had really small beets, so we just quartered them, but slicing is a better way to go with larger beets; they’ll get a bit caramelized in spots. Yum, yum.

Toss the beet in the sauce, making sure to coat each and every beet piece. Don’t skimp, we’ll check.

Add the beets to the sauce. And toss until all you have coated the beets. If you sliced the beets, you’ll have to separate the slices that stuck together. Loosely cover. You can use parchment paper, or in our case, we had a loose-fitting lid.

beets with walnuts
Toss the walnuts on top. Or put them on later. Or toss them with the sauce. It’s all good.

Top with walnuts. Sprinkle the walnuts over the top. You can toss and coat them if you like, or you can add them near the end. It’s all good.

Bake 40-50 minutes. You should see the beet slices beginning to caramelize towards the end. Then the beets are done.

completed beets
The best beets you’ll ever have. Guaranteed or your money back!

Serve. And prepare yourself for the best- tasting beet dish ever. One that you’ve scratched yourself.

As we said above, this gets 5 stars. It’s simple, easy to remember, and sooooo tasty.

Worth the trouble?

Chard Pie

As we move into the cooler months, we start getting cool weather crops from the CSA. Things like kale, collards, mizuna, tatsoi, and chard. After five years of being with the CSA we’ve gone from “what is that? And what are we going to do with it?” to “Great to get kale again! Let’s make kale chips!” We never had the former problem with chard. It’s a lot like spinach, and a simple steaming or sauté will make it into a nice side. But sometimes it’s nice if it stands out, as it does in chard pie.

Serves 4-6

Chard Pie

Chard Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch Swiss chard
  • 1/2 cups walnuts, chopped
  • 3 Tbs raisins, chopped
  • 4 eggs
  • 2/3 cup cream
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 pie crust in a 9" tart/quiche/deep dish pie pan.

Abbreviated Instructions

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Wash and shred the chard. Make sure to chop the stem portions about 1/8-inch thick.

Put the chard in a saucepan with about an inch of water and bring to a boil. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes.

Cool and drain, squeezing out the excess water.

Mix the cheese and chopped raisins into the chard.

Sprinkle whatever nuts you are using on the crust.

Spread the chard/cheese/raisin mixture on top the nuts.

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, the cream, and the nutmeg until well blended, then pour the mixture over the chard.

Bake for about 45 minutes, or until golden.

http://scratchinit.halversen.com/2012/11/chard-pie/

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch Swiss chard
  • 1/2 cups walnuts, chopped
  • 3 Tbs raisins, chopped
  • 4 eggs
  • 2/3 cup cream
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 pie crust in a 9″ tart/quiche/deep dish pie pan.

Ingredient discussion: Feel free to substitute on the nuts; hazelnuts would be nice, so would pepitas (shelled and toasted pumpkin seeds), or even pecans. Same with the cheese. We didn’t have Cheddar or Parmesan, so we went with mozzarella. No cream? Use milk; it won’t be as rich, but it’ll be good. For pie crust, make your own, of course. It’s not too difficult. If you don’t have a recipe, we’ll be posting one. Don’t omit the raisins or the nutmeg; these two items move this dish from a simple quiche to something outstanding.

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

chopped Swiss chard
Chopped Swiss chard. Note we chopped the stems into smaller pieces than the leaves. Some people would remove and discard the stems. Waste not, want not.

Wash and shred the chard. Wash thoroughly. Like spinach, chard can hold dirt in the wrinkly leaves so double or triple wash if need be. For greens, we find it helps to swish them in a large bowl filled with water and a small amount of white vinegar. When you shred the chard, make sure to chop the stem portions about 1/8-inch thick. They’ll cook better that way and you won’t bite into a big chunk of stem.

draining chard
Drain the chard well. You don’t want it soggy, or your crust will be soggy, and no one likes soggy crust. That’s a fact.

Steam the chard. Put the chard in a saucepan with about an inch of water and bring to a boil. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the chard wilts and becomes tender. Cool and drain (save the broth; it’s good stock), squeezing out the  excess water, so you won’t end up with a soggy, gloppy, nasty crust. We know you don’t want that.

chard with cheese and raisins
The chard won’t slip out, so we figured the raisins and cheese won’t either. That makes a colander a bowl.

Mix the cheese and chopped raisins into the chard. Once the chard is cool the cheese isn’t going to melt, so we just mix it all up in the draining colander. Less cleanup is a good thing.

walnuts on a pastry crust
Nuts! Sprinkle the nuts evenly across the crust. A nut or two for every bite is pretty much just right!

Sprinkle the nuts. Sprinkle whatever nuts you are using on the crust. You don’t want the crust completely covered, but you want enough nuts so there’s some in each bite.

chard pie nearly assembled
This baby is almost ready for the oven. Just have to add the eggs and cream and that’s next.

Add filling. Spread the chard/cheese/raisin mixture on top the nuts. You should end up with a layer about an inch thick.

chard pie ready for the oven
Ta Da! The chard pie is ready for the oven. If you have any crust left over, roll it out, and put it on top.

Add eggs and cream. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, the cream, and the nutmeg until well blended, then pour the mixture over the chard. It should come close to covering. If there is leftover crust, roll it out, cut it into a fancy shape and place it on top. We choose a nice round blob shape. It was a lot of trouble, but it’s worth it. Okay, Martha, if you want a fancier shape, go for it. But remember, it’ll get cut apart in no time and no one will say that your hand-sculpted chard leaf accent was any better than the rest of the crust.

baked chard pie
Chard pie, ready to eat. Note the fancy shaped leftover crust in the middle. Makes it look nice, don’t you think?

Bake. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until golden. Then serve and enjoy.

This recipe is a bit more involved, so we don’t make it every time we get chard; on that basis, we’ll give it 4 stars.

Worth the trouble?