Herb and Olive Ciabatta from Safeway.

Although supermarket bakeries fall short of being real bakeries, of all the chain ones out there, I’d have to say that Safeway is one of the best. (Although that doesn’t really mean it’s good.) At least in my bagel experiences it has been so, and I think this is also true for their other breads. (Pastries I’m not so sure, to me they all seem pretty similar – ie. similarly overly sweet and disgusting). Maybe it’s because most Safeway’s seem to have large and functional bakeries, and maybe enough people buy their stuff since the turnover is actually somewhat decent.

Found this herb and olive ciabatta at Safeway that was quite good. For me a ciabatta has to have a certain shape and thickness. Though the look is not as rigid in defintion as a baguette, I guess. But sometimes some places make ciabatta that just don’t look quite right … too narrow, to thick? I don’t know. This one looked like it was trustworthy though:

Herb and olive ciabatta

The herb flavor was present but not so strong that you feel like you’re just inhaling a bag of powdered rosemary or something. The bread was not dense but had a pretty good looking irregular open crumb, the crust was slightly crispy even without toasting, and it was nicely flavored and therefore good on its own. At the same time, if you had to grill a panino this would make it so much more flavorful than just plain ciabatta. I’d buy it again.

 

Herb and olive ciabatta

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Damn! Poked Yolk!

Sunday food is fun food! Unfortunately, I poked the yolk in my eggs in a basket, and flopped it rather messily afterwards. Heeheehee. It was still delicious. I love my alpine grain bread though, best packaged bread in the world! XD

Egg in a basket

Flour Power: Bagels Revisited

We had the first major snow-storm of the season this weekend (it snowed only on Saturday and Sunday, and today the snow is all but washed away in the rain), so there was much opportunity to be cooped up in the house and spending time in the kitchen.

It is rather easy to satisfy my stomach but extremely hard to please my palate, especially when it comes to my own cooking. In other words, I don’t criticize as long as it is somewhat edible, and sometimes things are “nice” because it was actually amusing to me that I can actually make food. But praise – praise is more difficult to come by. I’ll admit these bagels are not really much food porn (but then again, nothing I ever bake is that wonderful looking), but they tasted good and authentic. I am not the greatest fan of my own baking, being so much of a recipe-straying beginner, but I will definitely make these again. They don’t look as cute as the mini-bagels I made before, but I’m just going to say that this is the artisanal look. (Actually, the truth of the matter was that I was hungry and wanted to make these in time for lunch, so I didn’t have much patience to round the dough and shape them into perfectly round circles).

Whole Wheat Bagels

I tweaked various steps in the protocol of my last bagel experiment – tweaks that at least I thought would result in better bagels. I used different flour. Different yeast. I made more regular-sized (but not big) bagels. I added a bit more sugar. I boiled them for a much shorter time, and in my Le Crueset dutch oven. (That last one should make no difference but I would call it scientific-superstition.) And was there ever a big difference. I attribute it most to the flour and the boiling time. I had come across this “Organic Whole Wheat Hi-Rise Flour” at Choices so I thought I would give it a try. It’s more fine than typical whole wheat flour; I’m guessing it’s probably just whole wheat bread flour:

Flour

I also used instant yeast this time instead of active dry. In fact, I changed my brand of yeast. I have used Bakipan’s Active Dry Yeast before, now I am using Fleischmann’s yeast. (It is interesting to note that the size of the Bakipan’s Active Dry yeast is somewhere between Fleischmann’s Active Dry and Instant yeast.) But even with the “Hi-Rise” flour and the instant yeast, I didn’t get a faster rising time or any higher a rise at the same ambient temperature, so I don’t know what’s going on. The flour didn’t seem to rise any different than regular whole wheat, though it tasted a bit less ‘wheaty’ to me.

The boiling time was shortened from 5 minutes total to about 2 minutes, about 1 minute per side. The result was a chewy crust that was not too thick, and a dense interior crumb that still retained a bit of softness. The consistency was just good. There was just a hint of sweetness to these, the right amount for me in a plain bagel. (I thought they tasted even better than the plain bagels from GC Bakery but that is probably just personal opinion! :-D)  The only thing I wasn’t super pleased with is the look. The color I can’t really change, but I should have made them more round and poofier looking.

Bagel Crumb

Whole Wheat Bagels
(makes 6-8 bagels)

Materials:
360g whole wheat bread flour (see notes above)
<1c warm water
1T Instant/ rapid rise yeast
1t salt
4t sugar
1 egg white, lightly beaten with a pinch of salt (optional)

Protocol:
1. Combine and mix all dry ingredients. Add in warm water gradually until a stiff dough is formed. Knead 6-8min.
2. Cover and let dough rise 1hr (my dough didn’t quite double at this point.)
3. Divide dough into 6-8 equal portions, and shape into balls. Punch a hole through the middle of each ball with a floured thumb, and rotate the dough around in your hand to shape it. Cover and let rise 30 minutes.
4. During the last 10 minutes or so, bring water to a boil w 1t salt in a large dutch oven. Lower the heat so water is gently simmering.
5. Preheat oven to 375F.
6. Slide 3-4 bagels into the simmering water (or whatever fits into your pot as long as it doesn’t get crowded). Boil about 1.5 minutes on 1 side, gently flip over and boil the other side for 1 more minute. Remove from water and dry on a towel.
7. Brush with egg wash (can also add toppings like sesame seeds at this point), and bake for 25 minutes or until the tops have turned golden.
8. Remove from heat and cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes before eating.

Wheat Thins My Way

Although my first attempt at crackers yielded quite perfectly edible ones, I was of course not satisfied with my results (as usual). I thought my last batch of Spelt crackers were crunchy, but a tad on the hard side. Seeing that the Spelt crackers consisted only flour, water and salt, I decided to improve on this simple recipe. I haven’t yet created the perfect cracker, but a few minor tweaks yielded a significantly improved one (which landed me a commission from W to make her a giant batch so she can stop buying boxes of Wheat Thins). I used whole wheat this time instead of Spelt, and so they do kinda remind me of Wheat Thins.

ww crackers

The crunch and hardness factor was considerably improved over the Spelt crackers, and overall they tasted better (possibly due to a bit of — oooh — fat). I had thought that by adding baking powder the crackers would be poofed up and thick, this didn’t happen, but I am guessing it did give the crackers that lighter consistency. W thinks they were a bit saltier than required, though I thought they were OK. Kinda look like nachos with this roasted red pepper dip I had:

crackers and dip

Wheat Thins My Way
Makes about 100 triangular crackers

Materials:
180g (about 1.5c) Whole Wheat Flour
90g (about 1/4c) Water
1T butter, or margarine
1t baking powder
1t salt, plus more for sprinkling if desired
2t vegetable or chicken stock powder

Protocol:
1. Mix all ingredients well, and knead for a few minutes. Depending on humidity, you might need a bit more water to hold the dough together. Don’t add too much; the dough should be fairly dry.
2. Divide dough into two pieces and wrap with plastic. Let rest at least 30 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 375F.
4. Use a rolling pin, roll out into a flat sheet about 1/8″ thick. Put on a piece of parchment. Score with wheel pastry cutter or knife into desired shapes (I did triangles).
5. Sprinkle with salt if desired, and roll over lightly to make it stick.
6. Pierce each cracker several times with fork.
7. Place on baking sheet and bake about 15 minutes or until golden. (Watch carefully!) Cool on a wire rack.

Spelt Crackers (Whole Grain! All Natural!)

Spelt Crackers

I used to be addicted to Wheat Thins. I snacked on them pretty much morning day and night. That was back when I was more naive and took “0g Trans Fat” literally as no trans fat, and actually believed they were a healthy snack. When I saw “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” on the ingredients list, I stopped eating them completely. And a whole lot of other crackery things. I used to love Breton crackers too. It’s not just the hydrogenated vegetable oil, it’s a whole slew of other chemicals I didn’t want to be stocking up on.

Take this ingredients list of vegetable Breton crackers, for example. It is made from 14 ingredients, which include nasties such as: vegetable shortening, high fructose corn syrup, and preservatives. As well as autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed soy protein, protease, all of which are just another way to say MSG, without actually saying MSG.

Wheat Flour, Coconut Oil, Vegetable Shortening (Palm oil and Canola Oil), Dehydrated Vegetable Blend of Carrot, Onion, Celery, Tomato, Red Pepper and Green Pepper, Sugar, Seasoning (Contains Dextrose, Salt, Cornstarch, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Onion Powder, Autolyzed Yeast, Spices, Natural Flavor, Citric Acid), Salt, Wheat Germ, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein (Caramel Color, Natural Flavor), Leavening (Ammonium and Sodium Bicarbonate), Protease, Sodium Metabisulphite (as a Preservative), Skim Milk Powder.

Then take a look at some of your gourmet crackers, or certain allergen-free crackers, and you will realize that a cracker can exist without 14 ingredients. Maybe you add your favorite spice or some seeds. Perhaps a bit of vegetable oil. But really, all you need is 3 things: flour, water and salt. (Hence “water crackers”.)

So I set out to make my first ever batch of crackers. I made them with Spelt flour, since I figured for simple crackers Spelt might have a nicer flavor than just wheat. It was really fun and took very little time to make. I made well over 100 crackers and they were totally gone the next day! The crackers were thin (but probably could be a tad thinner) and very crunchy. Since they were very lightly salted, they were pretty good to snack on as is. And the Spelt does give them a nuttier, sweeter flavor. They were great dip vehicles (I had some roasted red pepper dip that went very well with them). Definitely worth making again with some minor tweaking, experimenting with different flours and spices.

Recipe follows…

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Vancouverite Banana Bread

Banana Bread

I work with some seriously health(-freakish) people. Consider this:

1) Vancouver is the healthiest city in Canada (actually, the Vancouver suburb of Richmond is, and us Richmondites also have the longest life expectancy in the world, at 83.4 yr, beating the 81.4 yr of the Japanese). Walk down a Vancouver street and you will see a very health-conscious, yoga-loving population.

2) People at our research institute in general: Bike to work. Sit on exercise balls at their desks. If not wearing lululemon, then it’s MEC (and they actually do do yoga or ski). A lot of soy milk and low fat cream cheese in the fridge. Always a vegetarian option.

3) People in my lab are particularly healthy, compared to other people in other labs: People next door are all candy/chocoholics. Their lab has a drawer full of candy and chocolate that gets opened more than our incubators, and there isn’t a time when one of them is not grabbing and nibbling on something from it. A box of Smarties could last over a week outside our lab. When we eat lunch you will see a balanced proportion of grains, vegetables, and lean protein – food pyramid style.

 

Anyway, so our lab has group meetings on Monday mornings, and the tradition is we each take turns bringing in food. The trend of late has been the same combination of healthy fruit (usually grapes) plus some unhealthy sugary pastries. But most people don’t really eat, and that box of croissants or muffins will be left largely untouched. Because most of us freaks are… *sigh* just too healthy, and won’t eat that kind of trans-fat laden, sugary stuff. (A few I think are just picky.) Even though the food that’s served often just sits there, little effort has gone into changing this trend. It’s also hard for a “breakfast” meeting as you can’t just buy chips and candy (not that people will touch those, either). And for all the years I have been here, nobody has ever made anything to feed for group meetings. My lab is just not cooks and bakers and culinary adventurers that way. So you can imagine it’s not the most encouraging environment which you bring your culinary experiments to: not only are my labmates picky about what they eat (and thus bad guinea pigs), but it also makes you the sole and resident cook if you’re the only one who likes to showcase your food.

It was my turn to feed yesterday, and being unlazy about food (and generally pissed that there really isn’t a point to buying food if nobody is going to touch it), I decided to make something that is good for a breakfast meeting. So I made a loaf of banana breadWhole wheat. Low fat. Reduced sugar. Good for your heart, good for your blood sugar, wholesome, lots of fibre, homemade goodness all round. And wow, great guinea pigs, everybody had a piece! And they were eager to try (or at least they hid their labmate-made-it-feel-obligated-to-try-faces well)! Score! Is it because it’s homemade and healthy? Or because it was warm and looked and smelled inviting? Who knows?! I thought it was pretty well recieved and disappeared in good time. N, who thought it was a coffee cake at first, said it was “very moist and excellent”. But to me it seemed more bready than it was moist-cakey. Like it wasn’t dry, it was still slightly moist but held its shape well and wasn’t sticky or goopy. S said she prefers it this way. I think next time I might use more bananas and less flour. I used half the sugar a recipe like this usually calls for, but it was definitely sweet enough.

 

cimg3514.jpg

 

Recipe follows…

 

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Whole Wheat Boule | Sponge method.

Whole wheat boule

Somewhat inspired by Yakitate!! Japan, I decided it was time to make some bread. Well, it was long overdue anyway, and I had wanted to get my hands in some dough badly. So I made a simple lean bread – a whole wheat boule. I started a sponge the night before with just yeast and whole wheat flour, but the sponge was not too spongey after 12 hours… I’m not sure if this is the flour because last time I made a sponge with white flour it seemed to have grown larger. Maybe I should have waited a little while longer. Anyway, I let this thing rise 3 times (plus being rather busy that day, each time it rose longer than I planned…). Turned out OK – wheaty, kinda chewy. The crust was actually very crispy and the crumb was much softer compared to breads I’ve made that didn’t have as wet a dough and didn’t rise as many times or as long. It also stayed soft the day after, unlike some whole grain breads that tend to get harder. I’m getting the hang of slashing, though there is room for improvement in every department. Anyway, makes good sandwich bread, would go nicely with spreads.

Whole wheat boule sliced

Sliced

 

Protocol follows…

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