May 5, 2008

The Warmth of Bread & Sunlight

I cannot resist Meyer Lemons. If I was given the choice of taking along only one ingredient to a remote island somewhere off the coast of Indonesia, then by gosh I'd have to take a Meyer lemon tree, yes the whole tree.

A few weeks ago I was at the market and they were still hanging around, I filled my basket with a few pounds. Now, they are nowhere to be found. They've disappeared with the cold days of winter.

I have a dwarf ml tree on my balcony, so sweet, I found it in a nursery last year and of course had to bring it home. Plump, perfect, teeny lemons were beginning to form and by this past winter I had used them all. The star of the table in risotto, flecked throughout pound cake, emulsified with oil, pounded into pesto, swirled as sorbetto, cooked into curd, dolloped into cream.......

So back to my basket of meyer lemons. I brought them home, so sweetly scented of lemony blossoms and made leaf-shaped ml rolls. Inspired by Richard Bertinet and his stunning book on bread, Dough: Simple Contemporary Bread. This book was a Christmas gift from Travis' mom, an IACP Cookbook Awards Book of the Year and I LOVE it! Bertinet has such a unique take with bread baking. He simply has you mix the yeast in with the flour, not giving it a few minutes to mingle with warm water in order to bloom. His theory is that most people inevitably use too warm of water, "which leaves you with a sticky mess." He has had tasty results without the blooming step, so I'm all for it! The only thing I noticed was that my dough took nearly 2 hours to double, and we (T. & I) live in southern California, granted it wasn't as warm as it is now, but really does it ever get cold here?

So after 2 hours or so, I finally got to play with my dough. Shaping it into little round balls and then into the tricky rolls, sort of like small baguettes with pointed ends, by the third or fourth roll I had the hang of it. Another resting, this time only an hour and then onto the baking. I have a standard run-of-the-mill gas oven and somehow have misplaced my spray bottle, I think T. took it for an art project and it's probably lost somewhere in the abyss of his closet. Rather then spritzing the oven, I threw a cup of water in, causing it to steam, I like to think this helps. None-the-less it gives off a great sizzle and billows of steam.

Once baking in the oven, the house was filled with a delicate sunny scent; the warmth of bread and sunlight.

Tasting notes: Delightfully cheery & kissed by the sun. The crust is thick and what you would expect, crusty! The crumb is okay for home-baked bread, a wee bit dense, I would like more aeration. It would be divine studded with olives or dipped into olive tapenade. For something sweeter, perhaps toasted with drizzles of honey or strawberry jam. Beautiful for brunch with salmon lox, creme fraiche and a bit of dill. Travis loves it with Salame Toscana and pancetta. I love it slathered with sweet butter and sprinkled with sea salt!

Here is the recipe for you adventurist types. Sorry I haven't enclosed any photos. I think it's best to buy his book, he has such lovely diagrams of each step. But if you are courageous go ahead and try it, you won't be sorry!

Lemon Rolls adapted from Dough: Simple Contemporary Bread by Richard Bertinet1/3 oz fresh yeast (preferably) or 1/4 oz envelope active dry yeast (1 1/2 t)
18 oz white bread flour (about 3 3/4-3 7/8 C)
2 t fine-grain salt
12 1/2 oz water (or 13fl oz, in a glass measuring cup, but weighing is more accurate)
zest of 2 large lemons (in my case Meyer)
flour for dusting

To prepareRub the yeast into the flour using your fingertips as if making a crumble. Add the salt and water. Hold the bowl with one hand and mix the ingredients around with the other (or use the rounded end of your scraper) for 2-3 minutes until the dough starts to form. Make the dough according to the method on pages 22-25. OR simply use an electric mixer with a dough hook (which is what I did, yet another gift from Travis' mom, the jewel of my kitchen; my bright red kitchen-aid mixer, oh pure love!) Put the flour into your mixer bowl and rub in the yeast. Switch the mixer onto the slowest speed, add the salt and then the water, and mix for 2 minutes, then turn up to the next slowest speed and mix for another 6-7 minutes until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. Add the zest of the lemons to the dough. Remove the dough from the bowl, transfer to a lightly floured counter and mold into a ball (page 25). Remember to preheat the oven to 475 degrees F (250 degrees C).
Make sure to add the zest of the lemons to the dough just before you finish working it by hand or mixing in a mixer, and ensure that the zest is evenly distributed through the dough. Form the dough into a ball (page 25) and place it into a lightly floured bowl to rest for 1 hour.

To make
With the help of the rounded end of your scraper, turn the rested dough out onto a lightly floured counter. Cut into 9-10 pieces and form into balls (page 28). Cover with a lintfree dishtowel and let it rest for 5 minutes. Shape the balls into rolls (page 30). Line a tray with a clean lintfree dishtowel and lightly flour it. Lay the rolls (seam-side-down), two abreast, parallel to the short edge of the dishtowel and then make a pleat in the towel fabric to form a barrier between these rolls and the next two. Pleat again and repeat until all the rolls are laid out on the tray. Cover with another towel. Let them rise for about 1 hour in a warm and draft-free place until the rolls have nearly doubled in volume.

Place the rolls on a wooden peel or flat baking tray. Score the tops of the rolls with a razor blade or very sharp knife in a leaf pattern, i.e., one slash down the center and three small ones fanning out on either side. Slide onto the baking stone/upturned tray in the preheated oven, mist the inside with a water spray(THIS IS WHERE I THROW IN A CUP OF WATER, WARNING THROW from far away!!) and turn down the heat to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Bake for 9-10 minutes until golden brown.

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