Toast and Jam

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A good friend once said she was a "Carbivore" and I can completely relate.  I could easily give up meat, but bread is out of the question.  I commute to work by bike and about 2 miles in, I pass through Dieter's Hell - my path takes me right between Blommer Chocolate Factory and Gonnella Bakery.   The smell of fresh baked bread is one of life's many pleasures and one you can easily have at home with a tiny bit of patience.  Also featured here are my super easy peach preserves.  The recipe was inspired by a jar of vanilla peach jam that a friend brought from Australia many years ago.  I was never really a jam person, but this was the combined tastes of winter (warm cinnamon) and summer (juicy peach) enveloped in a vanilla syrup that vastly improved toast, ice cream, and most everything else - and then it was gone.  I've since kept the jar in hopes of finding more, but to no avail, so I had to sort out my own recipe.

I'm both greedy and lazy, so I only make a batch of jam big enough to eat for a week, eliminating the need for water bath canning.  If you're a weekend warrior with a lot of peaches to process, you can definitely stock this one for your winter pantry.  Just use pectin to firm it up, and follow the directions in your box of pectin for peach jam.  I can almost assure you that you will either eat this in 3 days or send it home with others.  

But first, the bread.   

I wish I could claim all the credit for this bread - it has increased my popularity tenfold, but I must give credit where credit is due: the bread is a the brainchild of Zoe François and Jeff Hertzberg, M.D.'s  Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and will change your baking game in a heartbeat.  I reccommend buying the book, but I'll give the recipe here.  They have a ton of variations on the dough:  gluten free, whole wheat, naan, pizza shells, challah, bread with raisins, etc. etc.  I almost exclusively bake the basic baguette dough, although I've done some variations with whole wheat and semolina flours.  

The recipe here makes two 1.5 pound loaves or 4-5 medium baguettes and the dough keeps for ten days in the fridge.  I like the freeform baguettes, but Keith likes to have loaves since the slices fit in the toaster.

Your Daily Bread

Ingredients  - the dough

Breakfast is served! 

Breakfast is served! 

  • 1 tablespoon of active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon of non-iodized salt, like Kosher salt
  • 3 cups of lukewarm to cold water* 
  • 6-6.5 cups of all purpose flour - I use unbleached white flour**

You will need a fair amount of space in your fridge and a large nonreactive container with a lid to store the dough.  I use a 6 qt rubbermaid plastic container.  If you plan on making this bread a lot like I do, I highly reccommend getting a Danish dough whisk for pulling the dough together in a cinch.  Other things to consider are a loaf pan, a pizza stone for freeform loaves, and a baker's paddle to easily put your baguettes in the oven.  If you have a cookie sheet or a standard loaf pan, you're good!  My favorite loaf pan is this Chicago Metallics one.

In a large nonreactive container, add the salt, and yeast.  Next, pour the water in and saturate the yeast.  Scoop in 3 level cups of flour and stir to combine well.  Next, scoop in the remaining flour, bit by bit until it is all combined.  You should be left with a shaggy, wet, sticky dough; something the consistency of jello.  If your dough is stiff, add just a smidge (less than a 1/4 cup) of water until it gets shaggy.  If it's too liquid-like, add 1/4 flour at a time until it firms up a bit.  

Loosely cover the container– it should not be airtight.  As the yeast eats the sugar (flour), it creates carbon dioxide and that needs to escape.  Set aside on a counter to let the yeast do its thing for at least 4 hours - I like to let mine go for 18-24 hours.  The dough will double in size and have holes dotted through it where the carbon dioxide has bubbled up.  Now, shove it in the fridge and let it firm up.

Yep.  This dough is going to live in your refrigerator.  Whenever you need some to bake, dust the surface of the dough with a little flour to make it easy to handle, lop off about a grapefruit-sized ball and shape it into a baguette (see Andrea Nguyen's instructions on how to shape baguettes) then set it aside on a cookie sheet that has been coated in cornmeal.  You'll thank me later - the cornmeal will keep your bread from sticking to the pan.  If you prefer a loaf, grease a loaf pan well with butter or oil, and fill it 2/3 of the way full with dough.  In either case, set the dough aside for 20-40 minutes to warm up and rise.  

While you are allowing the dough to warm up, preheat your oven to 450ºF (230ºC) for at least 20 minutes.  Your oven needs to be hot hot hot.  When the oven is preheated, deeply slash across the dough with a serrated knife and pop it in on the middle shelf to bake.***   Your baguette should bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown (keep an eye on it) and a loaf takes 45 minutes (1.5 pound loaf) to an hour (2 pound loaf) to bake.  

 


 

*Be careful with the water temperature - hot water kills yeast which means your dough won't rise.  I like using cold tap water and letting the yeast work its way through the dough for 18-24 hours.  If you use lukewarm water, the yeast will work through the dough in less time (3-4 hours) but the bread texture isn't as nice.  

**A note on flour - different flours make for different flour to water ratios.  I find some flours more absorbent than others, so I might need a smidge (and I do mean a smidge) more water.  I buy unbleached flour because bleaching flour seems weird.  Organic and conventional flour taste and perform about the same - I have used both.  

***To get a crispy, shiny crust on the outside of a baguette and a soft inside, you need steam.  When the oven is preheating, put a shallow baking dish (preferably metal) in the bottom of the oven to heat.  When you put the bread in the oven, pour hot water in this baking dish so that it creates a cloud of steam that will rise around the bread.

 


Peach Preserves

There's nothing quite as good as a fresh, juicy peach.  It's messy and sticky, but that's half of the charm.  My husband gets sick of my complaints about mealy peaches, but it's a food lover's personal hell and it drives me to extreme anger– who wants to eat a mouthful of wet, tasteless sand?  

These preserves obviously work best with ripe, juicy peaches and are the perfect antidote to overripe ones, but if you have a few sandbags in with the mix, you can use them up without feeling guilty about tossing them out.     

I haven't tried this with nectarines or plums, but I'm sure you can get just as good a result. 

 Ingredients - the peaches

Makes 1.5-2 cups preserves

  • 5-6 medium ripe peaches
  • 5-6 quarts of water, brought to a rolling boil
  • 1 teaspoon of butter or neutral tasting oil (I used olive) 
  • 2.5 cups of sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice - I used the juice of one small lemon
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 stick of cinnamon or 1-2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon, to taste
  • Ice bath - ice in about 2 quarts of water

Wash the peaches well and put them all in the boiling water for approximately 5 minutes.  Remove the peaches from the boiling water and immediately place them in the ice bath.  This will cause the skin to separate from the flesh.  Peel the skin off the peaches with a paring knife or your fingers - the skin should come off relatively easily.  Remove the pits from the peaches and coarsely chop the flesh over a 4qt pot, reserving all the juice.   

Heating the peaches and the juice over a medium high heat, add the sugar and stir gently.  The mixture will start to foam– add the oil or the butter to cut down on foaming.  Add both the lemon juice and the cinnamon at this time - I just put in the whole stick and let it bathe in the peach-sugar juice.   Stir gently to incorporate everything and to discourage the bottom from sticking.  Turn down the heat and let the peaches reduce by almost half - the syrup should be thicker than maple syrup.  This takes about 15-20 minutes to reduce.  About a minutes before you are ready to take it off the heat add in the vanilla extract and stir to incorporate. 

Believe me, this batch won't last long enough to bother with canning it for the pantry, but you can make it shelf-stable by adding pectin to make it jell (you'll need to double this recipe and follow the directions on your package of pectin) and processing it in a water bath canner.  I do sterilize my jars first when making this, but it lives in my fridge for about 7-10 days.  Don't limit it to toast!  It's amazing on ice cream, in yogurt, on biscuits, as pie/crepe/galette filling, or straight out of the jar...