Along Came Bialy


As a displaced New Yorker, I am typically disappointed in the bagel offerings of the SF Bay Area. But, I have never been a bagel lover anyway. They are a little too heavy for me (though I will admit to enjoying the occasional bagel hot out of the oven at the store). When I do have bagels here, I usually only have half, and that has to be toasted, plied with some cream cheese and the smoked salmon fixings.

What I really miss is my memory of bialys. When I was little, I would sometimes go with my dad to his office and one of the treats that I remember I would get, perhaps at an old Chock Full O’ Nuts diner, was a toasted, buttered bialy. Part bagel, part English muffin, they tasted warm, comforting, chewy and, relative to their dense bagel bretheren, light. I’ve hunted for the bialy of my past in recent years, but I’ve come up short.

Yesterday, when S left for a business trip, I realized that we didn’t have any “good” breakfast foods in the house. No bagels, leftover french toast or pancakes in the freezer. I usually freeze leftover pancakes and french toast because they are such an easy microwave warm up on a weekday morning. J had an overnight at a friend’s house (she has vacation this week) and L had school. With S away and the girls out of the house, I figured I could sneak in some baking and try something new: bagels. Though, first I made some pancakes just to freeze.

I have been eyeing a recipe for bagels in my new favorite cookbook: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. Most parents don’t think, oh, we are out of bagels, I think I’ll try making them. But I do. Nonetheless, my attempt at bagels was a flop. I am convinced that it was my fault because this cookbook is so good. I think my problem was in the boiling. Maybe I left the bagels in the water too long? Perhaps not long enough? There could be a multitude of reasons that they didn’t work out.

Nonetheless, I was left with a bunch of bagel dough and I didn’t want to try more bagels. The oven was on, the baking stone piping hot. I had to keep going. Then I eyed the Bialy recipe with anticipation. No boiling, looked easier. In fact, much easier. The only changes that I made to the recipe were that I made the indentation for the onion a little bit smaller (that is how I remember them) and I used less oil for frying the onions and cooked them a bit longer. They poofed beautifully in the oven.

OMG!!! These are the bialys of my strangely clear food memories. L informs me that the onion isn’t onion-y enough (she is a bialy lover, too), but it didn’t stop her from polishing off one of these bad-boys for breakfast. I left the cooked bialys out on a cooling rack overnight so they would harden up a bit, without getting overcooked.

Toasted with salted butter. An impromptu trip to the lower east side of Manhattan. Either that, or I’ve died and gone to heaven.

5 Minute Bread

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Above are some pictures of the bread that I’ve been baking from the book that I just bought, “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day”, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. I’m all for easy and quick recipes and this book is just that (not including the time it takes to rise and bake the bread).

I’m loving the book. I’ve made the Pain d’Epi, twice (from one mix of the bread), and the Peasant Loaf, once (served last night with the soup). I’ve got the rest of the dough in the refrigerator.

The bread takes literally 5 minutes to mix, similar to No-Knead Bread. And, it is pretty comparable. This style just makes more per batch, and has more recipes. The premise is that you mix the dough in a relatively large batch, no kneading, let it rise at room temperature for a couple of hours and then throw the whole thing in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it. The dough lasts in the fridge for up to two weeks – the flavors continue to develop over time. When you are ready to bake the dough into bread, you cut off the amount you want to use, shape it, let it rest for a short time while your oven is heating, then bake it. That’s it. You do need a baking stone, but that is the only extra equipment. Actually, I tried the Peasant Loaf baked in a covered pan, like No-Knead bread. It seemed to work just fine. I may try bagels or bialys next.

I have found that the book’s proportions aren’t exact in terms of the number of pounds of bread that each recipe makes. A recipe that indicates that it makes 4 pounds of bread really only makes about 3 1/4 to 3 1/2. But, the bread is really good! The Pain d’Epi is pretty impressive looking, like from a Parisian bakery. The texture is somewhat heavier than traditional french bread, big holes but a dense crumb. Nonetheless, a great crust and wonderful flavor.

Here is a link to Zoe Francois’s blog!

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Burger Bun Bonanza

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There are some grocery items that are so standard, and ubiquitous, they are not something that one would consider making at home. Unless, you are a little bit strange, like me. I would like to make many of those standard items. In fact, many go with tonight’s dinner: ketchup, bread and butter pickles, potato chips, and burger buns. Of them, I’ve only made potato chips – and only a couple of times. I’m not that into making deep fried food at home (hot oil phobia from bad burns as a child), with the exception of jelly donuts at Chanukah.

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With some extra time on my hands this afternoon, I tackled burger buns. Our friends that joined us for dinner tonight gave me a bread baking book many years ago, so that is where I turned to for the recipe. Bernard Clayton’s “New Complete Book of Breads” has a plethora of recipes from easy to complex, yeasted to quick, traditional to esoteric. “The” Hamburger Bun recipe was easy, yeasted and traditional. I made it in the food processor for speed and so that I could minimize the amount of added flour (for lightness). I also used instant (or Rapid Rise) yeast, because I bought a big package of it a while ago (to make Speedy No-Knead Bread).

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Let the Weekend Begin

Pizza is Ready
I love the beginning of the weekend. It starts for me when school is out on Friday afternoon.

This Friday, we had another family join us for dinner and pizza making. I thought that I’d try grilled pizza, but I couldn’t pull the trigger. I don’t know why. So, instead of trying a new recipe, I made my own, usual dough (double recipe) during the day. Made the quick and easy sauce. Picked up some toppings: mozzarella, gorgonzola (which we didn’t use), pancetta, pepperoni, red peppers, mushrooms, fresh basil.

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Our friends brought a great spinach salad.

And, I made pineapple upside down cake for dessert using a recipe from Everyday Food Magazine. I seem to be on a roll with that magazine lately. My mom used to make pineapple upside down cake and I haven’t had it in years. I love all things carmelized. Pineapple cooked in caramelized sugar and butter is an phenominal combination. In fact, it made me think that I could substitute apples in the recipe and try making a tarte tatin cake. Next time, maybe. The recipe didn’t have maraschino cherries in it, but the cake would have looked so blah and naked with out them. And, I like maraschino cherries, especially when I don’t have to fight L & J for them.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

I made a couple of changes to the recipe other than the addition of cherries. First, I used 1/4 cup buttermilk and 1/4 cup lowfat milk for the liquid. I thought that would make the cake a little more tender. Since I was using a more acid liquid, I added about 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda with the dry ingredients. Second, I used canned pineapple (in juice, not syrup). It was just much easier and I haven’t seen any stellar pineapples at the market. Last, I found the baking time to be excessively long in the recipe – my cake was ready in about 35 minutes. I’m not sure why the baking time was so much less – maybe because my cast iron pan was still hot from cooking the caramel for the pineapples. Go figure. Continue reading

Bean Soup, A Hit

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As if the Speedy No Knead Bread wasn’t enough of a hit, Monday night I made a bean soup that everyone sucked down like it was their last meal. Even J, who doesn’t always love beans, finished her bowl and said that it was the best bean soup that I’ve made.

The speedy version of Mark Bittman’s “No Knead Bread” was introduced to me by my sister-in-law during our trip back east in December. What a revelation. I don’t think it is better than the non-speedy version, which I love. It is just that it takes SO much less time and planning. I also find the dough a little easier to work with. You can start it before lunch, forget about it for 4 hours, then when you are back home, just get it ready for the oven and bake it. This time, I mixed the dough at about 9:00 am, thinking I’d fold it and bake it starting at 1:00. But, I forgot that I had a school meeting at 1:30, then was out most of the rest of the afternoon. So, I poked the dough back down into the bowl at 1:15 before I headed out. Then, when I came back home at about 3:45, I turned on the oven, folded the dough and let it rest, went back out for a carpool, came back at 4:20 and threw it in the oven. By 5:05 it was out of the oven and I was on the road again. Very forgiving, this bread.

The soup, too, was forgiving. I soaked the beans using the quick method (bring to a boil in a lot of water, turn off the heat and let sit for an hour), then drained them, added most of the rest of the ingredients, simmered everything for about 1 1/2 hours. Then, I had to head out for my meeting, so I turned off the heat and left everything on the stove. Later, after I put the bread back in the oven, I added tomatoes, cut the ham off the bone, added some barley, and simmered everything for another 1 1/2 hours, while I was out doing errands.

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Baked Out

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This has truly been a week of cooking. I’m usually not this busy, but, boy this has been a week. The teacher snack – o.k., I could have bought everything, but that is just not my style. No one cares but me. If there are cookies, do they need to be home made to be enjoyed? Probably not. A plate of Oreos goes as quickly as a plate of home baked treats. And, don’t get me wrong, I’d be the first to grab an Oreo. But, I like feeling that I know what is going into the food I eat, and the food I serve.

And, that brings me to the bake sale. Yes, I signed up to be a school baker. Unfortunately, not many other people signed up for this incredible opportunity. This week, the student council decided on muffins for its monthly bake sale. I suggested blueberry. Then, I found out that the baked goods have to conform to some California guidelines for nutrition. I rose to the challenge and calculated the nutritional content of my recipe – it was close, I think, to the guidelines (I did a little back of the envelope calculation – really, I’m a glutton for punishment). This time, I only had to make 3 dozen. Last time it was muffins, I made 100 pumpkin muffins. Good thing I didn’t know about the nutritional guidelines for that one!

Then, L had a friend over to play, and we made Snickerdoodles.

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