Baking with Julia – Country Bread

IMG_4841This is another late one. I could make a bunch of excuses, but really it’s just that I didn’t have my shit together to get this done on time. No real reason, it just didn’t happen. And I know this is terrible, but I kind of like being late on these because I can learn from everyone else’s mishaps. That’s terrible right? The whole point of this group is that we’re supposed to be baking these things together and sharing our experience and I’m kind of poaching that when I read everyone else’s posts and adjust my methods accordingly. Ugh, sorry. I’m the worst. I’ll endeavor to be better in the future. I really will.


So this bread…it’s pretty, right? Everyone was saying that it made a HUGE monster loaf so I decided to split my dough in half and make two smaller loaves so I could freeze one. This was an excellent notion and the loaves were still a pretty good size. I also replaced the rye flour in the recipe with corn flour, mainly because I had the corn flour on hand, but really because I kinda hate rye. The only time I can stomach it is in a marble rye and that might just be because of this:

So the corn flour made these loaves a beautiful light color and added some nice, gritty texture to the bread. Is it weird that I like that? Normally gritty is reserved for describing unpleasant things but I don’t think it has to be a negative. So far I’ve made some truly amazing toast with this and a really nice frou-frou grilled cheese made with Dijon, Brie, and apples. Yeah, I’m fancy.


Country Bread (the no-rye way)

(adapted from Baking with Julia, contributing baker Joe Ortiz)

The Sponge

1 1/2 cups warm water

2 1/2 t active dry yeast

1 cup bread flour (I used King Arthur)

1/2 cup corn flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill)

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

Put about 1/4 cup of the warm water into the bowl of an electric mixer and sprinkle the yeast over it, stirring it to mix. Let that rest for about 5 minutes, until it becomes creamy, then add the rest of the water. Stir the 3 flours together in a small bowl and gradually add them to the yeast mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon and mixing until everything is evenly blended. Cover the bowl with a towel and let rise at room temp for 6-8 hours or cover it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight. If you refrigerate, take the sponge out of the fridge about an hour before you intend to continue with the next step and make sure to use warm water in the next mix.

The Dough

1 t active dry yeast

1 cup water

The Sponge

3 cups bread flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 T salt

Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of the water and pour the other 1/2 cup into the bowl with the sponge. Combine the bread flour and the wheat flour in a small bowl and set aside. Attach the bowl to the mixer and using the dough hook, gradually add about 2 cups of the flour mixture at the lowest speed. Don’t forget to lock the head of the mixer in place if yore using a tilt-head and make sure to keep an eye on your machine – mine had a hard time with this dough. After mixing for about 3 minutes, add the yeast mixture and incorporate it well. Sprinkle the salt over the dough and mix that in as well. Now add the remaining flour mixture and settle down for the long mix. The dough should start to clear the sides of the bowl almost immediately. Knead on low speed for about 10 minutes. I ended up turning mine off after 9 because my machine was really struggling and felt hot to the touch. If this happens to you, just knead it by hand for a few minutes until the dough feels right. I know this is weird to say, but after making enough bread you just know. It should be smooth, moist, and pliable. Once you reach the right consistency, place the dough ball in a lightly oiled bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let it rise at room temp for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, or until it has doubled in volume.

Make a resting place for the dough by choosing two vessels of equal size (I used two 9″ pie dishes). Line them each with a clean dish towel and rub flour into the dish towel to keep the dough from sticking. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and using a dough scraper, divide it in half. Place one half back in the bowl and cover it with the plastic wrap while you prepare the other. Pat the dough ball into a disk with your hands and fold all four edges in towards the middle. Using the heel of your hand, smush the middle down, then flip the dough over and use your cupped hands to form the dough into a tight little ball. Repeat this process four more times. Turn the loaf over and lay it flat-side down in your prepared place, folding the towel over to lightly cover the dough for the final rise. Repeat with the second dough ball. Let the loaves rise at room temp for 1-1 1/2 hours.

About 30 minutes before the loaves are ready to bake, position a rack in the lower third of your oven and place your baking stone there. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. When the dough is fully risen, rub a baker’s peel with cornmeal and invert one of the loaves onto the peel. Using a grignette or razor, slice the top of the loaf in a pattern of your choice (I did one tic-tac-toe and one criss-cross) and then quickly open the oven and slide the loaf from the peel to the baking stone. Reduce the oven temp to 400 and bake the bread for about 40-45 minutes, or until the crust is nicely golden and an instant read thermometer inserted in the bottom reads 200 degrees. Repeat this process with the second loaf. If you like, you can create steam by spritzing the top and sides of the oven with water from a spray bottle before you place the loaf in but I didn’t have one so I didn’t do it.

Let the loaves cool on a wire rack to room temperature before slicing. Store the bread cut side down on a cutting board and it should last about 3 days. I wrapped my second loaf in plastic wrap and then in foil and put it in the freezer where it will keep for up to a month.




Focaccia Topped with Everything Good

IMG_4746Happy new year everyone! I know, I know, I’m a little late. The holidays were so different this year that it seems like they just came and went all in one big blur and it’s so hard to believe that we’re in 2014 already. I didn’t really make any resolutions this year because I honestly don’t think I could handle any more change at the moment so I’m just going to continue on with what I’m doing and hope that 2014 is a better year.  Are you guys cool with that? Good. Me too.

So about this focaccia…IT’S AMAZING! I’ve made this little guy several times over the years and have basically eaten the whole damn thing in one sitting every time. That’s how good it is. And it keeps getting better because I keep thinking of new little things to add or tweak. This time I did a half & half – one side is caramelized onion with gorgonzola and pears and the other side is caramelized onion with pear and Brie and dried cranberries. Oh and there’s this delicious, syrupy, tantalizing reduced balsamic vinegar drizzle over the whole flippin’ thing. If your mouth isn’t watering right now then we can’t be friends. Actually, scratch that. We can be friends because that means I get to eat this whole thing and you have to find yourself something else to chew on. Yeah, that works.

Focaccia Topped with Everything Good

(adapted from this Food & Wine recipe)

1 cup warm water

2 1/4 t active dry yeast

1/2 t honey

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup plus 1 T extra-virgin olive oil

1 t kosher salt


1 large onion, thinly sliced

1 large pear (I’ve used red or Bartlett), cored and thinly sliced

1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola

1/2 wheel of Brie, thinly sliced

1/2 cup of dried cranberries

1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar

In a large bowl, combine the water, yeast, and honey and let stand for about five minutes. Stir in 1 cup of the flour and a 1/4 cup of the oil and let stand for another five minutes. Stir in the remaining flour and salt and knead on a lightly floured surface until the dough is smooth and easy to work with. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and let it rise for about an hour.

While the dough is rising, heat a large skillet over medium/low heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onions and stir them to evenly distribute the oil. And now you wait. And wait. And wait some more. There are a lot of short-cut ways to “caramelize” onions but I like to do it the low, slow, old-fashioned way which means low heat, minimal fussing, and deliciously melty onions every time. If you wanted to you could turn them on very low and let them go for even longer than the hour it will take the dough to rise but you don’t have to. Just stir them every once in awhile and watch them turn brown and lovely. If they ever look too dry to you, just add a touch more oil. When they look nice and brown and delicious, take them off the heat and transfer them to a small bowl.

Preheat the oven to 450 and oil a rimmed baking sheet. Scrape the dough onto the sheet and stretch and press it to fit the pan as best you can. Dimple the dough all over with your fingers and drizzle it with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Let the dough rise for about 20 minutes until it begins to puff.

Scatter the onions evenly over the dough and then sprinkle one half with the gorgonzola – lay the Brie slices over the other half. Now arrange the pear slices over on the whole thing. Try to cover as many of the onions as you can with the pears and Brie because they tend to get a little dark in the oven if they’re totally exposed. Drizzle about a tablespoon more olive oil over the whole business and then slide it into the preheated oven. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until the dough is golden and the cheeses look melty and scrumptious, then set on a wire rack to cool a bit before serving. Sprinkle the dried cranberries over the Brie side.

When there’s about 10 minutes left before the focaccia is done, put the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring it to a low boil and cook for just a minute or two longer to reduce the vinegar to a nice, syrupy consistency. Watch this like a hawk – you do NOT want burnt balsamic vinegar. Remove from the heat and let it cool a minute or so before drizzling it generously over the whole beautiful focaccia mess you made. Now stuff your face.

Riffle – Let’s talk about it, shall we?


I believe I’ve made it clear that I’m a big reader. I have, haven’t I? Right now I’m reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. I know, I know,  I’m about 4 years behind everyone else. I read for fun every single day, without fail. I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember. I never go anywhere without a book and if I don’t read before bed, I can’t fall asleep. I sound like a total nerd, right? Well it’s my lot in life and quite frankly, I think it’s pretty awesome. When I meet people who say they don’t read it’s like it doesn’t compute for me. I just don’t understand at all. Reading is essential to me. In fact, I would give up cooking and baking and eat pre-packaged meals for the rest of my life before I would ever give up reading. Take a moment to ponder that…yeah.

So anyway, my cousin Cress who is a librarian told me about this website called Riffle last year sometime and I’ve decided I want to make it a thing. I want people to like it. I want it to be popular. I want it to be the Facebook/Twitter for nerds like me. So, calling all nerds – go to Riffle, sign up, and follow me and a bunch of other cool people who love to read. I’m still learning how to use it but as far as I can tell it’s an easy way to keep track of books you’ve read, find new cool books to add to your must-read list, and see what other people think about the books you’re currently reading. Search for Maggie Hanson and you’ll find me there, making lists of The Best Books I Read in 2013 and Books to Read in 2014 and fun stuff like that. Do it, do it! You know you want to….

I’m also reading this:

PFMcoverThis lady is great. She’s been featured on NPR a lot and I’ve read two of her other books (Gulp & Bonk) and I love her comedic style. A comedy/science writer, who knew those existed?

So what’s everyone else reading? I’m always up for adding things to my 2014 list 🙂