Project Wonderful

Friday, November 29, 2013

No Knead Bread

“Bread is the king of the table and all else is merely the court that surrounds the king. The countries are the soup, the meat, the vegetables, the salad, but bread is king.”
– Louis Bromfield (1896-1956)

Ah bread:  that archaic alchemy of of flour, water, yeast and salt that excites the senses, connect us with our primitive selves, and fill the house with an intoxicating aroma that every person should experience at least once. In my book, you haven't truly lived till you've baked your own bread from scratch.

In 2006, the New York Times posted an article on how to make artisan bread (in other words, not Wonder Bread) without having to knead the dough - ostensibly this makes it easier, though I personally don't think kneading dough is anything big chore. This recipe has been tested by thousands of people and re-blogged hundreds of times. Its a tried and true way to make an awesome loaf of bread.

I've been wanting to make this recipe for a while because I've seen the results first-hand. The bread is light, full of wonderful airy holes, and has a respectable, but not molar-destroying crust. And since today is Thanksgiving, it's 30 degrees outside and my house's heater decided to die, the idea of getting the oven fired up and baking some bread sounds like a great way to warm up.

Music for this endeavor: Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant Massacre" - because its Thanksgiving and when else are you going to appreciate a 20 minute song?

Keep in mind that because there isn't much kneading, you are relying solely on your yeast to do all the work, so this is going to take some time to accomplish. The dough needs to rise for at least 18 hours before it goes in the oven. So as long as you time things out correctly, you should be golden.

So here's how to make a stupid simple artisan bread that will make you look like an expert baker.


  • 3 cups all purpose or bread flour (plus a little more for dusting)
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 cups water

Add the flour, yeast, salt and water together and mix until its a shaggy mess. 

Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough sit in a warm (70 degree) area for 12-18 hours. If the house is cold (like mine is), a good tip is to put the dough in a cold oven with only the oven light on and leave it overnight.

This is what my dough looked like after about 15 hours of sitting in the cold oven.
It pretty much doubled in size, with lots of bubbles over the surface.

Scoop the bread out of the bowl and lay it onto a floured surface.
Fold it over a couple of times.
This is as close to kneading as you are going to get. 

Toss the bread back into the bowl and let it rest for about 15 minutes. 
Some people suggest lightly spraying the bowl with cooking spray before you put the dough back, but I didn't think it was necessary. 

After 15 minutes, place the bread on a sheet of parchment paper. Shape it into a ball (or whatever shape your cooking pot is) by tucking the ends underneath it and stretching the surface a little. Let it rest/ rise for another two hours. 

After two hour the dough will have doubled in size again. It should be plump and leave dents in the dough when you poke it with a finger.  This was just right.
About a half hour from the dough finishing its last rise, pre-heat the oven to 450 and place your baking container inside to pre-heat. This is the pot that I cook my bread in. I picked this up at a yard sale many years ago.

Its got a nice glazed interior, but the rest of it is unglazed terracotta, which makes it ideal for baking bread in. Any heavy-duty metal or glass pot with a lid will work. Just make sure that the handle on the lid is oven safe to 450 degrees.

Once the oven is heated and the dough is ready, CAREFULLY pull the pot out of the oven and dump the dough into it seam side down. You can jiggle it around a little bit to settle it into shape, but its going to bake into its own shape anyway. The dough is going to stick a bit to the parchment paper, but just scrape it off and shape the dough. The more rough the top of the dough is, the more "artisan" it will look when its finished. 

Bake it in the oven at 450 degrees for 30 minutes with the lid on,
then take the lid off and bake for another 15-30 minutes.
You're shooting for an internal temperature of around 210 degrees.
 If the bread sounds hollow when you thump it with a finger, you're done. 

And voila: fresh baked bread from scratch. 

The crust had a firm, noticeable crunch, but the center was soft, tender and delicious.

The perfect accompaniment to a great meal.  


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Winter Advisory Bread

It's rare that we get any significant weather here in Austin, so when we get the occasional winter storm (which I absolutely love,)  my head starts thinking about how to make the day at home fun. One of the best ways to have fun and stay warm is to bake something!

So we dug through the pantry and found a box of  Fleischmann's bread mix. This was something we grabbed from the clearance shelf of our HEB a while ago and tossed it in the pantry for occasions such as this.

There are plenty of bread recipes out there (and I will be submitting another one soon) but for a quick and easy thing to do on a cold stormy night, this can't be beat.

So with Ray LaMontagne blasting out of Pandora, and the sleet bouncing off the covered plants outside, we set about the business of baking bread.

Let's crack open that bad boy and see what's inside. 

Not much. 

So you start by adding the yeast.

Then the sugar.

Then add 1 cup, plus one tablespoon of hot water. They recommend 100 - 115 degree water. 

OK, I don't understand the whole "plus one tablespoon" thing. Why can't you set the mix so that you only need one cup? It can't be that difficult to alter the ingredient amounts.

Science, bitches!

Stir that nasty looking mixture together and then let it sit for three minutes. 

The yeast will re-animate themselves like little eukaryotic zombies and attack the defenseless sugar crystals in an epic battle of fermentation.

The bubbles are their victory cry.

Every recipe can be improved so we improved ours by adding orange zest and candied cranberries, as was suggested by the box.

I love the Microplane zester. It's an amazing tool.
It was even cool when it was just a wood rasp, but it's so much better now.

Calling them "sweetened cranberries" instead of "Craisins" makes the whole thing sound much more sophisticated. Remember, most people don't realize how stupid easy it can be to make bread, so anything you can do to that will easily impress your friends should be done.  This inst "bread from a mix," this is an "artisan multi-grain loaf with orange zest and sweetened cranberries."

Anyway, add the Craisins to the mix.

Then add the flour mix a little at a time. 

Stirring everything together evenly. 
It won't be long before you have a gloopy, shaggy mess of awesome staring right back at you

Because when you stare into the awesome, the awesome stares into you. 

Now take that gloopy pile of awesome and with all the dexterity of a Ph.D.,  place it carefully into a greased baking pan. You'll probably need a little flour to keep it all from sticking. 

Now you have to cover it and let it sit in a warm, draft-free place for about 25 minutes. Remember, this is a recipe that doesn't require kneading, so this means you are relying on the yeast to do all of the work in turning this into bread. It helps to give it a fighting chance. 

Make it look purdy by cutting a few lines into the top. 

I brushed a little butter over everything as a final touch once it was ready to go.

Toss this mess into the oven at 350 for about 30 minutes. 

And the end result is pretty astonishingly good. 

The whole house was filled with not only the amazing smell of fresh baked bread, but bread with a hint of orange in it as well, which is exactly what you are shooting for when its 34 degrees and miserable outside. 

We had ours with some leftover pot roast as we sat on the couch and watched Netflix. It's the perfect way to celebrate those rare winter weather moments.  


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Scarborough Pumpkin Soup

I'm calling this "Scarborough Pumpkin Soup" because it uses parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Get it?

Damn, I'm creative.

This of course, got me thinking about the song and the significance of the ingredients.

The tune, made popular by Simon and Garfunkel in 1965,  is officially called "Scarborough Fair," and is a traditional English ballad that originated in the 1600's, though the ingredients mentioned first appeared some time around the 1800's. Apparently it's a tale of a young man instructing the listener to instruct his former love to perform a series of impossible tasks - like making a shirt without a seam and then washing it in a dry well. If she completes these tasks, he will take her back.

So basically it's "ye olde English" way of saying "I'll take you back when monkeys fly out of my butt."

According to, the four ingredients symbolize four virtues that the subject of the song is requesting of his former love:
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Allegedly aids in digestion and removes the bitterness from food.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) 
Symbolizes strength.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Represents faithfulness, sensibility, love and remembrance.  
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Symbolizing courage.
Regardless of the reasons, the four herbs work well together in soup, which is why I decided to use them in the first place.

Plus, I still had some leftover pumpkin puree that I needed to get rid of to make room for more pumpkin puree this year.

I made the soup using some duck stock that I spent the morning making (I threw some duck parts in a pot of water and let it simmer for 4 hours.) You dont really need to use duck stock. Chicken stock works just as well. I just had it available and decided to use it. I do have to say that it gave an incredible flavor to the soup.

Also this recipe uses the three ingredients, onions, carrots and celery as a base. In French cooking, this is known as a mirepoix (pronounced "meer-pwah") and is the starting point for a lot of French soups, stews and sauces.

So now that you know the secret meanings behind the herbs and the fancy name for chopped veggies in a soup, here's how to make this awesome creation:


  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 3 carrots, shaved/ peeled
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1 apple, cored/ slice
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 cups cooked pumpkin puree
  • 3 cups duck broth (chicken broth works good too)
  • 1 tbs dried parsley
  • 1 tbs dried sage
  • 1 tbs dried rosemary
  • 1 tbs dried thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large stock pot add the carrots celery and onions. 
Let them cook down just a little and release some of their flavor.

Add the apples and stir.

Add the garlic and stir. Dont let it brown. 
In goes the pumpkin, followed immediately by the broth.
In go the herbs.
I like to place them in my hands and crush them a little more as they go into the soup.

A quarter-sized amount of dried herbs in my palm equals about a tablespoon. 
Cover, and let the whole thing simmer for about 35 minutes.

After simmering, blend using a stick blender or a regular blender with the center clear section of the lid removed and a paper towel in its place. 
This allows the steam to escape without exploding the soup everywhere. 

Once blended, return the soup to the pot and serve it with a pinch of fresh parsley on the top.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

White Gravy

As promised, here's a recipe for a white pan gravy to go along with the breakfast biscuits for a Sunday Brunch:

  • 4 tbsp bacon fat (or unsalted butter)
  • 4 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk (good old vitamin D milk. The lighter stuff wont work as well.)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
OK, let's not mince words here: you are making gravy. This is not healthy. As long as we all realize that, everyone will get along just fine.

And hey! Here's some geek trivia for you to impress your friends with:
  • Combining flour and fat together is called a "Roux:". This is the foundation for a lot of dishes and is the thickening agent used for three of the of the five main, or "Mother Sauces" in French cuisine (Béchamel, Espagnole, VeloutéHollandaise, and Tomate). 
  • Technically you are making a Béchamel sauce since it involves fat and flour.
  • The word "roux" means "browned" as this is what you usually do with it, cooking it to a variety of shades of brown, from a light blond color for things like this gravy, all the way to the shade of a copper penny for Cajun dishes like gumbo.
  • A Veloute sauce uses flour and chicken stock, a Tomate sauce uses tomatoes, an Espagnole sauce uses veal stock and chunks of beef and a Hollandise uses egg, butter and lemon juice in an unholy trinity that (in my opinion) skirts the edge of being a freaking miracle of chemistry. 

This is a stock photo because I'm too lazy to take my own pic
And once again, I am following in the footsteps of my culinary ancestors that took traditional snooty French recipes and bastardized them to their heart's content. A traditional French roux uses butter. For mine, I'm using bacon fat. You can always substitute butter if you don't have any bacon fat in your fridge.

But why, for the love of Epicurus do you not have the solidified drippings of that delicious meat candy safely stored in your fridge? They impart SO MUCH FLAVOR to things you cook with them. Yes, it's not very healthy and I don't use it all the time, but for select dishes, nothing beats bacon fat for flavor. And as we've already established, we're making gravy here: "Healthy" doesn't have any business being near the word "gravy." 

Now I understand that everyone and their mother has a recipe for gravy that they swear by. I'm not saying that this is the ONLY way to make a gravy, just that it's my way and is pretty straightforward:

1. In a small pot heat the milk (but not boiling).

2. In a separate small saucepan, melt the bacon fat over low heat. Once melted, add the flour and mix together to make the roux. Keep stirring this as the flour begins to cook. You want to get it to a pale blonde color. Nothing more than that; Just a hint of color is all we're going for.

3. Once you've reached the right color, add about 1/2 the milk and increase the heat of the pan to medium.

4. Add the white pepper and a pinch or two of salt.

5. Stir this mixture with a wire whisk. Keep stirring this as you don't want it to stick. If it starts drying out, add more milk.

6. Keep adding in the milk a little at a time, whisking constantly until all the milk is combined and the sauce starts thickening.

7. Once your whisk starts leaving tracks in the pan that don't flow back, you are done. Transfer the gravy to a bowl (otherwise it may keep cooking in the pan) and serve immediately. You may want to add a pinch more white pepper and salt to taste at this point. 


Breakfast Biscuits

The weather is turning cooler again, but it's just too beautiful to not have all the windows and doors open.

I decided that it was time to get rid of some things in the freezer in order to make room for the yearly restocking of venison, so there's a big pot of duck parts simmering slowly on the stove. The whole house is filled with the savory aroma. The cats are out sunning themselves on the deck.  Its just a beautiful Fall morning in Central Texas.

It was therefore decided that I should make biscuits and we should have breakfast on the deck.

Who am I to argue with such a fantastic idea?

This recipe comes from a well-used copy of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. Our ring-bound version ends up becoming my go-to reference book for a lot of great food. And it has the food stains and caked-on flour on the pages to prove it.

Total prep time for this is about 20 minutes, with about 10-12 minutes to cook, so get this one started first, then you can focus on the eggs and sausage and my awesome white gravy.


3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tsp salt
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup butter
(plus 2 tablespoons melted, reserved)
1 1/4 cups buttermilk or 1 cup milk.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and cream of tartar. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. The butter should be cold when you cut it into the mix.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the milk. Using a fork stir just until moistened.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. I'm not gonna lie: this is going to be a mess of little dough chunks. Just keep mushing it together. Knead the dough by folding and gently pressing dough for 4 to 6 strokes or just until the dough holds together.

Pat or lightly roll dough until 3/4"  thick. Cut the dough with a floured 2 1/2" biscuit cutter.

Place biscuits 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Brush them with the melted butter just before putting them into the oven.

Bake in a 450 degree oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden. Remove biscuits from baking sheet and serve immediately.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Banana Bread

Got a few bananas that are just a little too ripe to eat? This is a perfect excuse to make banana bread.

This is one of those types of quick breads (breads that don't require yeast) that's perfect to make on cold rainy days. We don't get too many out here in Central Texas, but today I make do by making the comfort food in honor of the weather we never see enough of.

"Banana bread first became a standard feature of American cookbooks with the popularization of baking soda and baking powder in the 1930s, appeared in Pillsbury's 1933 Balanced Recipes cookbook,[2] and later gained more acceptance with the release of the original Chiquita Banana's Recipe Book in 1950.[3]"

Courtesy of Simply Recipes, this is one of those classic friend-of-a-friend style recipes that you end up holding on to and making again and again. The original recipe suggests using a cup of sugar, but I reduced it to 3/4 of a cup and think it tastes perfect.


  • 3 or 4 ripe bananas, smashed
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar 
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour

First pre-heat the oven to 350.

Take some unsalted butter and coat the inside of a loaf pan. 
This will help get the loaf to release out in one nice shot.

Pour 1/3 cup of melted butter over 3 or 4 bananas in a large bowl...

Then work out some aggression by mashing the bananas into a mushy pulp.

Add the sugar, the egg, vanilla.
Sprinkle the baking soda and a pinch of salt on top, then mix it in. 

Add the flour as the last step and mix everything together. 

Pour the mixture into the buttered bread mold.

Some recipes tell you to mash the bananas into a fine paste.
Me, I like chunks of banana in the finished product.
This may be some kind of sin in culinary schools, but screw it. I like the chunks.

Toss this bad boy in your oven for 60 minutes.
The smell will start driving people crazy at about the 20 minute mark. 
It gets worse when you pull the golden brown bread out of the oven.

Be sure to place it on a wire cooling rack. Not really for any reason, 
except to torture your loved ones with the smell just a little while longer. 

And voila: quick banana bread.