Ciambella Deliciousness

We got Marcella Hazan’s cookbook Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking as a wedding gift over three years ago. Until recently, the only recipe we had tried from there was her pizza dough recipe. Yes, in three years, the only recipe we had even attempted from quite possibly THE Italian recipe woman was pizza dough… (but it’s damn good pizza dough)

Well, we were out all day, ate a late lunch, so by the time we finally got home it was after dinner time and we really weren’t all that hungry for a meal, but still needed something in our bellies. I knew I didn’t want to be up all night preparing something, and we didn’t really have a whole lot of stuff in our pantry, so I knew just who to turn to.

I dusted off our copy, found the desserts section, and started reading through the various recipes until I found one I felt like attempting. That one was her grandmother’s ciambella recipe. Pretty straightforward, not a lot of ingredients, and not a whole lot of time. Perfect. L got the boys bathed, and I got to cooking. An hour-ish later, the boys were in their PJs, the counter was covered with flour, and we were eating delicious cake. It is now going to become one of our regulars, and we’ve made a decision to actually open up her cookbook and try some new things. Recipe is below, permanent link lives here. I’ll post a photo when I make it again… we dug into before I could snap a quick pic.

Ingredients
8 tbsp (1 stick) butter
4 c flour (preferably non-bleached, all-purpose)
Skin of 1 lemon, grated
3/4 c sugar
2 tsp cream of tartar
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/4 c milk
2 eggs

Procedure
1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Whisk together the dry ingredients while melting the butter (but don’t let the butter get too hot – 10 second increments in the microwave and stirring until melted does the trick, or putting it in a pan over low heat works too).
3. Add the butter, milk, 1 egg, the white of the other egg, and all but about 1 tsp of the other yolk to the dry ingredients and mix together.
4. Transfer everything to the counter and knead, adding more flour/milk as necessary to get a good dough that is dry but still holds itself together.
5. Make the dough into a roll about 2″ in diameter, then try as best as you can to make it into a circle.
6. Smear a baking sheet with butter, sprinkle with flour, then put the dough ring in the middle and brush with the leftover 1 tsp of egg yolk (and maybe a little bit of water).
7. Stick it into the oven and let it bake for ~35 minutes.
8. Marcella says to let it cool, then wrap it up in foil or store it in a tin bin and enjoy the next day. Do what you want. It’s delicious.

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Productive Saturday

Well, today was a pretty productive day, especially for a Saturday. As you can see, I’m actually writing a blog post!

So here’s the day so far:

We woke up at 7:30 am. Not just L, but both of us! This never happens. Most of the time I have a gig on Friday so I don’t get home until 3, so my normal Saturday wake up time is around 11ish. But last night I had no gig – we made dinner, caught up on some Stephen Colbert, and went to bed at a normal time.

So L made coffee (Mobjack Bay Coffee) and left to go to some garage sales, I whipped up some bread batter and set it aside to let it rise, pulled out a copy of my thesis that my advisor had scribbled red ink all over, and began to brew beer. A couple weeks ago I purchased a new brew kettle – 8 gallon capacity, stainless steel, with a spigot. I’ve been itching to try it out but hadn’t had much time (stupid thesis…), but I have been working pretty hard lately and figured I could address the red ink issues with one eye while keeping the other eye on the kettle. I got the water heating up and began to work on my edits. After a while, the water had reached 155 degrees (F), so I added my grains for steeping, set the timer, and continued to work.

P1040717WV woke up around 9:30, but he wasn’t all that cranky so I changed his diaper and let him run around the kitchen in his walker until L got back (and she made delicious pancakes and sausage patties). After the wort was finished boiling, I took it out on the porch to let it cool while I took a trip to the dump. Don’t worry, it was covered so nothing could get in the beer. By the time I got back home from the dump, the wort had cooled enough where I felt comfortable transferring it to the primary fermenter. All I had to do was open the spigot and let it go!

So now I’ve got a batch of pale ale fermenting, two loaves of bread ready to go into the oven, fixed the red ink issues, and the trash and recyclables are out of the house. Doing an acoustic gig tonight, then I get to spend tomorrow with my family (and maybe work on my figures).

Homemade Bread and Grateful Dead

Back when I used to have to commute an hour to and from my office, I would pass the time by listening to the radio. Mainly just switching back and forth between the news and the local classic rock station. When I would get tired of hearing about people blowing each other up because they can’t just be decent and agree to disagree I’d switch over to music. When I would get tired of hearing the same Rush and Skynyrd songs (don’t get me wrong – great bands, but WAY overplayed… need more Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead) I’d switch back to the news. Here’s some Dead for your head while you’re reading about bread – make sure you have the bass on your system turned up (shameless plug for my band, Key’d Up):

One particular day, I heard an interview on All Things Considered with a woman who had written a book called Make the Bread, Buy the Butter. The author, Jennifer Reese, had taken the time to try a bunch of different recipes (hot dog buns, pickles, bacon, vanilla extract, keeping bees, etc) and write about her experiences. She lets the readers know which items are worth making from scratch, including both time and money involved, and which ones you should just buy from the store. She and I don’t agree on everything (homemade sushi is less expensive AND worth the work, we use the hot dug bun recipe for hamburger buns and they’re just fine), but it does have a lot of good info.

So I was listening to this interview, and thought to myself, “This sounds like something right up our alley – when I get home I’ll order it and hopefully it will arrive in time for Christmas.” I got home, quickly got to my computer, and stealthily placed the order. L and I were eating dinner later that evening, talking about our days, and she mentioned this really neat interview she heard on the radio and how she thought the book sounded like a great idea and was thinking about buying it. Ugh… I had to spoil the surprise and let her know that I already ordered it for her.

The main reason I bought the book was to save money. I figured over the years I would be saving way more than the $15 plus shipping I would be spending on the book. But it also turns out that I’m saving myself and my family from ingesting whatever crazy stuff the food industry puts in their breads. One example is L-Cysteine. Sourced mainly from human hair (although I read that they have changed to mostly duck feathers in Europe), it violates certain religious dietary restrictions, and the thought of ingesting either human hair or duck feathers is kinda gross. I haven’t done all the research to know which breads contain it and which don’t, but since we’re no longer buying bread we don’t have to worry about it.

Now, you might say “I can’t make my own bread, that’s too time consuming, and I really don’t know how to cook.” Wrong, wrong, and it doesn’t matter. You CAN make your own bread, it really doesn’t take much time at all, and my baking experience before I met L was preheating the oven to 400 degrees and throwing a frozen pizza in there for 18-20 minutes.

Here’s how little time it takes: On Saturday mornings, when L is feeding WV or making something delicious for breakfast, I mix up the bread batter. Then I stick it in loaf pans. Then I go about my day doing whatever needs to be done (oil change, garden work, Fortran code translation, procrastinating, etc.). After the bread has risen for a few hours, I stick the loaf pans in the oven. Then after 28 minutes I remove the breads from the pans and stick them back in the oven. Then after 5 minutes I turn them. Then after 5 more minutes I take them out. It’s that easy, and really not time consuming.

Recipe below with prices, permanent recipe link here. Total cost per loaf*: 94 cents, 88 cents without the flax seeds.

Ingredients:
5 1/2 cups bread (or all purpose) flour
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp yeast
3 1/2 cups water
4 tsp kosher salt
Flax seeds/Sesame Seeds (optional)

Procedure:
Activate the yeast with warm water, then mix in the flours, salt, and water.
Oil the inside of two 9×5 loaf pans, put half the dough in each, then sprinkle flax seeds on the top. Or mix the flax seeds in with the dough. Your choice.
Cover the loaves with a clean, damp dish towel/cloth diaper and let rise until the dough is as high as or just above the tops of the pans.
Bake at 450 degrees in the pans for about 28 minutes, then remove from pans, put the breads back in the oven on their sides for 5 minutes, then flip them to their other sides for 5 minutes. You might want to put a shallow pan or some aluminum foil underneath so the flax seeds don’t fall the the bottom of the oven and burn (if they’re on top of the loaves).
Breads are done when they sound hollow when tapped (or when you ask your wife if that’s what hollow sounds like and she says yes).
Remove the loaves from the oven, see if you can wait until they cool to slice and eat.

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*Numbers rounded to nearest cent, tax not included. I remember a joke that my quantum physics professor once told us in class: “A mathematician will say that a series is convergent if its limit exists. A physicist will say that a series is convergent if the first term is finite.” Today, I’ll pretend to be a physicist and will be ignoring values that I don’t care about.

-King Arthur flour (each variety) is $4.19 for a 5 lb bag at our local Food Lion. Flour is (on average) 4.4 oz/cup, so a 5 lb bag will yield about 18 cups. ($4.19/18)x(5 1/2) = $1.28. 1 3/4 cups is $0.41. Other flours might be cheaper.
-My 1 lb bag of yeast was $6.99. There are about 160 tsp in 1 lb of yeast. $6.99/160 = $0.04.
-Our water comes from a well. I guess we do pay for the electricity to pump it. I ignored this.
-I bought the salt for $0.99. There are 131.5 tsp in the container. ($0.99/131.5)x4 = $0.03.
-A 15 oz bag of flax seeds at Trader Joe’s is $2.99. There are 56 tbsp in the bag. I use about 2 tbsp when I sprinkle them on the loaves. ($2.99/56)x2 = $0.11.
-I sprayed the inside of the loaf pans with cooking spray that was given to us by friends who moved. I ignored this price too.
-I don’t know how much it costs to run the oven either. So I ignored this as well.

I’m game for other bread recipes too, so if you have a favorite send it on over!