Culinary Discoveries During Isolation
By Anita Bowser
Last night I finished a lengthy process of making chocolate custard ice cream. When I say lengthy, I mean a multi-phase procedure that included mixing, cooking, cooling, churning, and freezing what later became a very rich dessert that I may never make again. It's not that the final product wasn't good. It was. It simply ended up being far too rich for my tastes.
But, I tried it out, and now I know. Maybe next time I'll try my hand at chocolate malted ice cream. In the meantime, I have mastered frozen vanilla custard, which I quite enjoy.
Based on my social media feeds, a lot of people are venturing into uncharted kitchen territories during our collective period of social distancing. Forgotten favorites from childhood and new recipes or gadgets have set so many of us on adventures sure to please the most dedicated of foodies.
My first clue to this pandemic trend came several weeks back, during an exhaustive search for yeast and flour. After what was probably early panic-hoarding, those supplies have become available again. More recently, I've found some basic kitchen equipment out of stock at local stores and online dealers. I suspect the recent run on hand mixers and air fryers is more a symptom to boredom and experimentation than of panic.
At least many of us - myself included - will come through this event with new and polished skills, and expanded menus. Here I would like to share two recipes I've found that have satisfied my long-standing desire for bread-baking.
Now, I must tell you, my mom made wonderful bread, and her homemade buns were to-die-for. Though she taught me much about cooking, we never got around to bread baking. Unfortunately, it's too late now for her to share her master baking skills with me.
Mom left behind some recipes that are, shall we say, incomplete and hard to decipher. While she was of that generation with absolutely beautiful handwriting, her abbreviations and vague instructions leave me scratching my head.
So, I've looked elsewhere for help. Knowing I'll never make anything to compare with my mom's bread, I've chosen to make something a bit different: Crusty Artisan Bread, and Na'an Flatbread. They're quite easy to make, and taste good, too. But, don't take my word for it. Try them yourself.
Crusty Artisan Bread
3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/4 Tsp Active Dry Yeast
2 Tsp Kosher Salt
1 1/3 Cups Luke-Warm Water (about 90-100 °F)
A 4-6 Quart Dutch Oven & Lid (Heavy or Cast Iron)
In a bowl or storage container, mix the dry ingredients together and add the water. Cover with plastic wrap or a lid and set aside, away from drafts. I use a plastic container and lid which I place in my microwave for safekeeping.
Let the mixture sit for 18-24 hours. It will become sticky and bubbly. I usually allow the dough a full 24 hours before moving to the next step.
After 18-20 hours, prepare a flour-dusted piece of parchment paper, about 12" x 12". Pour the mixture onto the parchment paper and, with lightly floured hands, form it into a (sort of) ball.
It will be very sticky and hard to form. That's OK. don't over-handle the dough.
Lightly dust with flour and cover the dough with a tea towel. Set aside in a draft-free place for two hours. Again, I use the microwave to safely store my dough.
Once the dough has raised for nearly two hours, place a heavy Dutch oven in the oven and heat the oven to 450°F. After 10 minutes in the 450°F oven, carefully remove the Dutch oven.
Place the parchment paper and dough into the Dutch oven, cover it with a heavy lid and put it in the 450°F oven. Bake the dough for 30 minutes covered and then uncover for an additional 15-20 minutes.
Then remove your crusty bread to a cooling rack to cool off for 30-45 minutes before cutting.
NOTE: Though the mouthwatering fragrance makes this bread hard to resist, don't cut into it right away. The bread isn't completely baked until it has cooled.
2 Tsp Active Dry Yeast
1 Tsp Sugar
1/2 Cup Luke Warm Water (about 90-100 °F)
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/3 Cut Plain Yogurt
1 Large Egg
2 1/2 - 3 Cups Flour (Separated)
1/2 Tsp Salt
A Large, Heavy Skillet or Electric Griddle
Combine the first three ingredients and allow to froth until the froth/head is at least as tall as the initial liquid mixture. I use a measuring cup for this step.
Whisk together Olive Oil, Yogurt and Egg, then add the frothy Yeast mixture. Whisk together gently. Set aside.
In a medium size mixing bowl, combine 1 Cup Flour and 1/2 Tsp Salt.
Add the wet mixture and blend. Add additional Flour, 1/2 Cup at a time, until you can no longer stir it.
Turn the dough onto a lightly-floured surface and kneed for about three minutes, adding tiny bits of flour if necessary to keep it from sticking.
Loosely cover with a tea towel and allow to rise, doubling in size (about one hour).
Then flatten slightly into a disk (about 1-2" thickness). Cut into eight equal pieces.
Shape each piece into a small ball. Roll each ball into a round flatbread, about 1/4" thick and 6" diameter.
Heat skillet or griddle on medium heat and very lightly oil to prevent sticking. Too much oil will make bread dense and chewy.
Cook each flatbread until the bottom is brown and bubbles form across the top surface. Turn and cook until the bottom is golden brown.
These flatbreads are perfect as crusts for individual pizzas, as toasted wedges, and for open-face sandwiches.
NOTE: Beyond a bit of salt, both of the breads above have no preservatives. They will last a day or two at room temperature in a sealed bag or container before requiring refrigeration. They will last 5-6 days in the refrigerator and can be frozen as with any other bread.
Your Turn - Tell us about your favorite bread recipes as well as about your kitchen successes (or disasters) during 2020 COVID-19 isolation.
And, until next week, take care and stay safe!
Anita Bowser is a writer and blogger from Butler. She’s a volunteer at Kittanning Library and has worked as a grant coordinator, reporter, copy editor, content writer and a library director. Her favorite past times include reading, writing and cooking. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and find out more at www.anitabowser.com.