Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Homemade Italian Bread

Living in California, the thing I missed the most was the rain. Well, excluding real New England ice cream, obviously. I've been back in Massachusetts for a little over three weeks now and it's rained pretty much every other day. Let's just say I'm ready for California weather... but I'm not ready to give up local ice cream!

Weatherwise, yesterday was pretty fair--so of course it's been raining all day today. I didn't have to work or babysit, so I spent the day watching my new show, Sherlock, and making bread from scratch.

Even though I had all day to poodle around making bread, I didn't want to spend multiple hours proofing yeast and waiting for the dough to rise. So, to the internet I went for a relatively quick and easy recipe.

I eventually found this recipe on For the Feast. Super easy to follow and a delicious, gorgeous loaf as a result!

You will need:
 -3 cups bread flour
 -1 packet (2 1/4 tsp) of active dry yeast
 -2 tsp granulated sugar
 -1 tsp salt
 -1 cup warm water (plus water as needed)
 -approx. 1 tbsp olive oil
 -sea salt, if you're up for adventure

In a bowl, combine the cup of warm water and the packet of yeast. Let it sit for about five minutes, until it's "creamy" and resembles the picture above.

While the yeast is doing its thing, combine the flour, sugar, and salt in another bowl.

When the yeast is ready, do what I didn't--make a well in the flour and pour the yeasty water into the indent. I just kind of poured it in willy-nilly and ended up with this weird looking mess above. Add water (a little bit at a time!) if necessary until the dough sticks together and is sticky.

When it's reached an appropriate consistency, gently form the dough into a ball and put it in a greased bowl. Spray a little bit of Pam on top, then cover the bowl with kitchen towel. Leave the dough alone for an hour--take a shower, exercise, binge-watch Sherlock...

After an hour, the dough will look like this. Tip it out of the bowl, flip it over, and move it around a bit. Form into another ball, spray some Pam, cover it up with a kitchen towel, and leave it to rise for another half-hour to hour.

VoilĂ ! This is my dough after an hour and fifty minutes of total rising time.

Now's the time to preheat your oven, folks--375˚F.

Prepare your surface; I used a medium sized pizza stone. Sprayed it with (what else but) Pam, and I was ready to go!

Ease your dough out of the bowl, and carefully form it into a ovular/football shape. Try and handle the dough as minimally as possible, because you don't want to ruin any of the nice little air bubbles inside.

Brush the loaf with the olive oil. If you're feeling exceptionally daring, sprinkle some sea salt on top. Then, using a sharp knife, slice three angled cuts into the bread.

Now it's time to pop that sucker into the oven! Cook for thirty minutes, or until tapping the bottom produces a hollow sound. I can never shake the thought that I'm Nancy Drew searching for a hidden room... but maybe that's just me.

Let it cool for at least fifteen minutes before enjoying.

On a side note, I was eagerly taking this photo when my dad came home from work. I got some judgement vibes from him, but really. Look at this beauty.

We had it with our dinner tonight, but I'm looking forward to enjoying it before it inevitably disappears by tomorrow evening. I'm guessing my dad will make toast with it for breakfast, and my mom is no doubt fantasizing over an egg and homegrown watercress sandwich for lunch... 

It's quite a dense bread, but crumbs very nicely. The bread has a gentle yeast flavor and smells like heaven! The sea salt is a nice touch, I think.

All in all, an easy, delicious, and quick bread (well, as quick as bread can be!)

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Friday, June 7, 2013

Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Bars

So here's a bit of backstory. I'm an only child--the people in my house are me, my mom and dad, and our crazy mutt Seeds. Therefore, whenever I make desserts, I have to find someone to give them to!

Every month, the dental practice I work at has a "team meeting", where all the employees meet and we discuss various topics. You see where I'm going with this? That's right; a group of people I could give dessert to!

Since all my coworkers are quite healthy, I thought I'd stay away from (deliciously caloric) things like brownies. I wanted something relatively mess-free as well... with some creative googling and blog-searching, I found a recipe on Brown Eyed Baker for Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake bars.

You will need:
 -Nine graham crackers
 -1/2 cup of granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
 -Pinch of cinnamon
 -A cup of blueberries
 -16 oz (two little boxes) of cream cheese
 -4 tablespoons of butter, melted
 -2 eggs
 -Zest and juice of two lemons

First off, preheat your oven to 375˚F, and line a 9x9 pan with parchment paper. Trim the edges so they don't hang too far off the edge.

You'll use your food processor excessively for this--so drag it out from whatever cabinet it's in, give it a good rinse, and you're set! Break your graham crackers into pieces, and throw those into the processor with the two tablespoons of sugar and the pinch of cinnamon.

Pulse until it resembles bread crumbs, then pour in the melted butter. Pulse some more until it resembles the above picture.

Press the mixture into the pan, then bake for twelve minutes until it's even more golden brown. Take it out of the oven and let it cool, but keep the oven on and hot!

While the crust is in the oven, you can start on your filling.

Begin by zesting your lemons. We have a nifty little tool that we use, so that certainly simplifies things. Once you've zested (I'm never going to get sick of that word), slice your lemons in half, then juice them. If you don't have a juicing device, use a pair of tongs to squeeze the lemons. It works better than manual squeezing!

Into the food processor: all the cream cheese, the two eggs, a half cup of sugar, and all the lemon juice and zest. Process away until it's completely smooth.

Make sure you occasionally scrape the sides down, so that everything can mix together fully.

Pour the filling on top of the slightly cooled crust. It's going to be pretty thick, so spread it with a spatula to make an even layer. Once it's spread to your satisfaction, sprinkle your blueberries on top. Feel free to put as many or as few on as you'd like.

Now, pop that sucker into the oven for approximately 35 minutes, until "the center only slightly jiggles", which I took to mean as didn't jiggle much when I poked it (with clean fingers, I swear).

When they're done, take them out of the oven and let them cool completely before removing from the pan and refrigerating for at least three hours.

I brought them into the office and was greeted by some very happy coworkers! They went quickly and were absolutely delicious--they were wonderfully light and lemony. I saved some for my parents and they said that, flavorwise, the bars reminded them of Key Lime Pie. Next time I may omit the blueberries and instead top with a little bit of fresh zest!

These will definitely go on the roster for delicious, relatively guilt-free, and quick desserts!

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