DAN LEPARD’S SAFFRON BLOOMER

Dan Lepard is by far my favorite bread baker instructor, for many reasons, but perhaps the most important is that he doesn’t try to portray bread baking as a complicated and convoluted issue.  It is flour, water, salt, and yeast, folks.  Some bakers make you believe that you must go out of your way to get flour made from wheat harvested under a full moon when the temperature was 68.5 F. Or else… your bread will suffer horrible consequences.    Others will have you frantically measuring the temperature of the air, the water, the bowl, your hands, the nose of your dog, then manipulate all those variables to find out for how long you must knead your dough to hit the jackpot of 78 F. Or else… your bread will suffer horrible consequences.   Dan has a totally different approach, and you know what? None of his recipes has ever failed me.  Because he turns bread baking into a light, fun experience, you’ll relax, bake more often, and get the real important achievement in the process: familiarity with the dough, a “feel” for when it’s been kneaded enough, proofed enough, baked enough. This is a wonderful example of Dan’s talent, a bread made with saffron and ricotta that smells amazing, and tastes even better!

SaffronLoaf

SAFFRON BLOOMER OVERVIEW\
(recipe from Short and Sweet, available at The Guardian)

This is a very simple recipe, that doesn’t require a sourdough starter, a pre-ferment, or hours of commitment.  All you’ll need is good quality saffron, some ricotta cheese, and flour, mostly all-purpose with a touch of spelt (or whole wheat).

The saffron steeps in a bit of warm water, and that yellow, fragrant liquid is mixed with rapid rise yeast plus all other ingredients.

Minimal kneading involved: three sessions of kneading lasting less than a minute each will produce a super smooth dough with tiny flecks of saffron poking through here and there.

Using rapid rise yeast makes this bread show up at your table in less than 3 hours from the  moment you start gathering your ingredients.

I used an empty Le Creuset to bake this loaf: simply placed the slashed dough still over parchment paper inside the pre-heated Le Creuset (oven at 425F), closed the lid, and baked for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes I removed the lid and allowed the loaf to bake for 10 to 15 more minutes, until dark golden.

 

If you want to see the complete recipe and print it, please click here

 

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Comments:  I’ve made this loaf twice in a month, which tells you how much we enjoyed it. One of the reasons I repeated this loaf so quickly was that we had a special visitor in our home, that dear friend who gave me a huge amount of saffron a couple of years ago.  He came over to give a seminar in our department, and I decided that baking a loaf of saffron bread would be a nice way to thank him for the gift. Side benefit: right after visiting us, he jumped on a plane to Saudi Arabia, and a little bird told me that more saffron will be arriving by mail, just when my reserves are reaching a dangerously low-level. Yes, you do have the right to feel jealous.  😉

CrumbSaffron

The bread has a beautiful yellow crumb, and if you freeze it and enjoy it later, slightly toasted, the taste of saffron gets much more pronounced. It also makes superb croutons for a Caesar salad.  Baking in the Le Creuset produced a crust that was not too different from that of a rustic sourdough.  I am definitely going to use this method often for non-sourdough breads, it traps the steam in a very efficient way, and the resulting crust is considerably better (for our taste, at least).

 

I am submitting this post to Susan’s Yeastspotting

 

ONE YEAR AGO: Fesenjan & The New Persian Kitchen

TWO YEARS AGO: Quinoa Salad with Roasted Beets

THREE YEARS AGO: Pasta Puttanesca

FOUR YEARS AGO: Miche Point-a-Calliere

VALENTINE’S DINNER FOR TWO: SECOND ACT

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am doing a series of collaborative Valentine’s Day posts with Jamie, from Cooking in Red Socks. Go check her site for a great recipe this morning:  Cherry and Pecan Stuffed Endive… She pointed out that in cocktail parties the food served is not always user-friendly. So true!  I often find myself in serious trouble, trying to negotiate a glass of wine with a meatball that definitely needs to be cut in half or else… Her stuffed endive is classy, elegant, and perfect to enjoy while having a great conversation with your friends.  No fear of that chicken wing flying off and landing on the guest of honor. 😉

And now, it is time to share my choice of main dish, a recipe that I’ve been wanting to make for a long time. It was featured in one of my favorite food blogs, Elra’s Cooking. Her recipes have that aura that put me into a dreamy mode, they always bring together exotic spices, long-simmered, complex sauces, and her photography is simply superb! Cornish hens turn any meal into a festive occasion, so they seem perfect for a romantic meal.

Valentine Day Cornish Hens

FRAGRANT BAKED CORNISH HENS WITH APRICOT SAUCE
(adapted from Elra’s Cooking)
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2 (3 lbs) cornish hens
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 small garlic, minced
24 dried apricot
¼ cup golden raisins
2 cinnamon sticks
1 whole star anise
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cumin
1-2 tbsp orange flower water (I omitted, could not find it)
¼-½ tsp saffron threads, soaked in 2 tbsp hot water
½ cup chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
chopped parsley
a handful of slivered almonds
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Heat oven to 375 F.

Saute shallot over medium heat until translucent, add minced garlic, dried apricot, raisins, cinnamon sticks, star anise, ground ginger, ground cumin, saffron water, and the chicken.  Stir to mix the ingredients, season with salt and pepper. As soon as it starts to boil, turn the stove off, add the parsley, mix, and let this mixture cool completely.
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Clean, and cut the hens into quarters. Pat dry with paper towels. Arrange them neatly on an oven proof ceramic dish. Pour the apricot-spice mixture directly on the hens, turning to coat each of the pieces with this mixture, then arrange them back with the skin side up. Transfer to the oven, and bake for 1 hour.  About 10 minutes before the hens are done, scatter slivered almonds on top, and continue to roast until the skin is brown and the meat cooked thoroughly.  If you want, increase the heat slightly at the end to brown the skin, but make sure the liquid won’t dry too much.   

Serve hot, with steamed rice or couscous.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

ApricotsThe apricot sauce is luscious, smells absolutely amazing!

plated1 Dinner is served!  Tender pieces of cornish hen, a sweet and spicy sauce, plain couscous to soak it all up…

And, to brighten up the palate, a simple salad with fresh spinach, grape tomatoes, and black walnuts, with a delicate dressing of creme fraiche…

Spinach Salad

SPINACH SALAD WITH GRAPE TOMATOES AND BLACK WALNUTS
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

for the dressing:
2 tbsp champagne vinegar
1 medium shallot, very finely minced
1 tbsp creme fraiche
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

for the salad:
fresh baby spinach leaves
grape tomatoes, cut in half
black walnuts
salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl whisk together the shallots, vinegar, creme fraiche, Dijon mustard and salt.  Slowly whisk in the olive oil to make a creamy dressing.  Reserve.

Toast the black walnuts lightly.  Assemble the salad, and drizzle the prepared vinaigrette on top. Adjust seasoning with more salt if needed, and freshly ground pepper.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Comments:  This was a super-delicious meal, the apricots soak the sauce and develop a hint of spice to marry their natural sweetness. Make sure you remove the star anise and the cinnamon stick before serving the dish, you don’t want to have the favorite person in your universe to break a tooth right in the middle of a romantic dinner. That would pretty much spoil the mood. 😉

A double thank you is in order: Elra, thanks for bringing this recipe to my attention, and Jamie, thanks for playing with me on this Valentine’s week…

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Stay tuned for the final act of our romantic meal… dessert coming up tomorrow!

BRAISED FENNEL WITH SAFFRON AND TOMATO

This side dish is elegant and luscious. Perfect to pair with chicken, pork or a mild fish like cod or sea bass. But, if you prefer to walk the vegetarian path, enjoy it over farro, barley, or as we did, a colorful quinoa.  Add a hearty loaf of bread, and you will be all set…

Fennel with Tomato Saffron1

The recipe is published in  Vegetable Literacy  the latest cookbook from Deborah Madison. Lisa  from “Lisa is Cooking” wrote a great review about the book a few months ago, and shared a recipe from it, check it out by jumping here. Deborah Madison has the amazing ability of bringing the best out of the most humble vegetable. I do not own a copy of this particular book (bravely resisted so far), but her classic Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is part of our collection.

The recipe is available online, just click here.

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Definitely the most important advice is to take the time to brown the fennel well, that will ensure a deeper flavor in the end.  I don’t recommend this dish for those who have issues with fennel, because its flavor is very prominent.  I crumbled goat cheese over the braise, allowing it to melt down in the liquid, and right before serving added the greens from the fennel, minced. As the recipe states, if your fennel bulbs came without the tops, use parsley instead. My main modification from the published recipe was to squeeze a little lemon juice all over, and reduce slightly the amount of tomato paste. I thought three tablespoons seemed excessive, so I added only two.  Capers and saffron are fantastic together, by the way.

Served
Because we have nothing against a little meat with our veggie goodness,  a boneless, grilled chicken breast was part of our dinner too.  As far as looks are concerned, I suppose a fully white quinoa would have been better, but the bag of tricolor quinoa acquired months ago at a Trader Joe’s was winking at me from the pantry.  I spooned a little of the braising sauce over the chicken, so that it all got tied together in a beautiful caper & saffron glory!

platedDinner is served!

ONE YEAR AGO: Revenge of the Two Derelicts

TWO YEARS AGO: Grilling Ribbons

THREE YEARS AGO: Peppery Cashew Crunch

FOUR YEARS AGO: Baked Shrimp and Feta Pasta

ARTICHOKE-SAFFRON SOUFFLE

The inauguration of the Supernova oven demanded a special recipe.  Soufflé had been on my mind for a long time, so all I needed to do was pick a flavor.  A parenthesis is necessary. I’d lived for 16 years in a place that did not have frozen artichoke hearts for sale in any grocery store. I was in a state of permanent frozen artichoke withdrawal syndrome, only relieved during sabbatical experiences like the one in Los Angeles.  The move to Kansas last year marked the end of my frozen artichoke misery.  I now keep those cute little bags in our freezer, and never run out of them. End of parenthesis.  Having said all that, artichoke was a natural option to flavor my soufflé. To make it even more special, the bechamel base would be flavored with saffron. Artichoke hearts. Saffron.  Case closed.

Artichoke Saffron Souffle1

ARTICHOKE-SAFFRON SOUFFLE
(from the Bewitching Kitchen, following Julia Child’s basic method)

6-cup mold, buttered and sprinkled with grated Parmigiano cheese

3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp flour
1 cup hot milk
good pinch of saffron
1/2 t salt
1/8 t pepper
4 egg yolks
5 egg whites + pinch of salt
3/4 cup artichoke hearts, sautéed slightly in olive oil
1/8 cup Fontina cheese, grated

Heat the milk almost to the point of boiling, add the saffron and let it rest for 15 minutes. Melt the butter, stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes, don’t allow it to brown.  Remove from the heat, and when the butter stops furiously boiling, add the saffron/milk all at once. Return to medium heat and cook, stirring constantly for a couple of minutes more. The sauce will thicken considerably. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove from heat, allow it to cool for 5 minutes or so,  and add the egg yolks, one by one, mixing very well after each addition. This sauce can be prepared to this point and refrigerated; bring it to lukewarm before continuing. If you decide not to refrigerate it, then dot it with butter, cover it with a plastic wrap and go work on the egg whites.

Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until firm peaks form – depending on your mixer or the strength of your biceps it will take 2 to 5 minutes. Add 1/3 of this mixture to the sauce, to thin it slightly – add the prepared artichoke hearts and the Fontina cheese, mix well.  I like to keep the artichoke hearts in chunks, but if you prefer you can cut them in very small pieces.

Now, add the remaining egg whites and fold into the sauce. You don’t need to mix it until it is all incorporated and totally homogeneous, because the “lift” of your souffle’ depends on the air present in the beaten egg whites. If you deflate it, you won’t have a well-risen souffle (it will still taste good, though).

Fill the souffle’ mold to 3/4 of its volume, place it in a 400F oven, reducing the temperature immediately to 375F. Cook the souffle’ for 30 minutes – do not open the oven door during the first 20 minutes. If you like it moist inside, serve after 30 minutes. I prefer to cook for 5 additional minutes, then the texture inside is perfect, not too dry, not too creamy.

 ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Comments:  A friend of mine recently asked me what I would do to get some drama into my life now that the kitchen hellnovation is over.  Rest assured, Drama and Sally go hand in hand. Birds of a feather. Two of a kind.  Peas in a pod.

I am not a soufflé-novice, and in fact it is one type of dish I’m pretty comfortable making, even for company. However, since the timing is so important, I normally prefer to make soufflé just for the two of us.  I suppose it’s acceptable to throw a hysterical fit screaming at the husband to come sit at the table “RIGHT NOW!” but guests might be put off and never accept another invitation.  Anyway,  I was pretty confident making my concoction, prepared the bechamel based infused with saffron, sautéed the artichoke hearts, whipped up the egg whites.  The oven was on, the beautiful blue indicator light had turned off, sign that Supernova had reached proper temperature.

Huge smile, I opened the oven door, and the smile became a shriek of horror followed by a  “NOOOOOOOOO!”  that could have awaken the dead. I forgot that we had assembled all the racks the day before, and there was no space in between them, so the only thing that could go in would be a sheet pan. Drama? You bet. Beloved husband tried to help but I advised him to leave the premises and take all canines with him. He complied.  That’s when I stopped thinking rationally.  I quickly put oven mittens on both hands, grabbed one of the racks, pulled it out, ran frantically around trying to find a spot where it could rest without burning any surface, re-arranged the other racks and finally placed the souffle dish inside. Slammed Closed the oven door, and noticed that the indicator light was back on.  And on it stayed for quite some time (sigh).   In other words,  instead of going into a 400F oven, my production went into an environment that was more like 300F. Clear soufflé-abuse. I kept staring through the oven’s window, knowing that the first 15 minutes pretty much decide the fate of your souffle as far as rising goes.  Mine was struggling.  In retrospect, I should have waited for the oven to reach proper temperature, and only then placed the souffle in.  The base is actually very forgiving, it can wait for a while before baking.  I knew that, but I wasn’t thinking.   Lesson painfully learned.

However, as I’ve said many times before, taste matters more than looks. And this was one tasty soufflé, my friends! Artichokes and saffron: a pair made in heaven, like peas in a pod, birds of a feather, Sally and Drama. 😉

serving

ONE YEAR AGO: Cinnamon-Wreath

TWO YEARS AGO:  Yeastspotting 11.11.11
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THREE YEARS AGO: Oven-baked Risotto
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CELEBRATE WEDNESDAY WITH PASTA AND MUSSELS IN SAFFRON BROTH

For some reason I had “issues” about cooking mussels at home. Maybe that whole de-bearding thing sounded too wild for my delicate self.  😉  But we love mussels and it’s  sad to only have them in restaurants, or even worse, only when we go to Paris and visit one of those widespread “Leon de Bruxelles” places.  Anyway, our grocery store in the Little Apple carries farmed mussels. They have no beard to worry about. Therefore, most of the cleaning process is done. They cook quickly, and certainly make a humble plate of pasta (and a rainy Wednesday evening) shine…

served1

PASTA WITH MUSSELS IN SAFFRON SAUCE
(adapted from Food and Wine magazine)

2 cups dry white wine
4 bay leaves
4 pounds small mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
Pinch of saffron threads
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
linguine
Salt and freshly ground pepper
minced parsley, to taste

In a large pot, combine the wine with the bay leaves and bring to a boil. Add the mussels, cover and cook over high heat, shaking the pan a few times, until the mussels open, about 5 minutes. Drain the mussels in a colander set over a medium bowl. Pour the mussel broth into a glass measure. Crumble the saffron into the hot mussel broth. Reserve.

Discard any unopened mussels. Remove the mussels from their shells and place in a separate bowl. Pour the melted butter over the mussels and toss to coat. Cover with plastic wrap.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the thinly sliced garlic and cook over low heat just it gets some color. If you prefer, remove the garlic, if not, leave it in, and add the crushed red pepper, cooking together for one minute.   Slowly pour in the reserved mussel broth, stopping when you reach the grit at the bottom of the glass measure. Add the lemon juice and simmer over moderately high heat until the sauce is reduced to about 1 cup, about 8 minutes.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta just until al dente. Drain the pasta well. Add the buttered mussels and the hot spaghetti to the mussel sauce and toss over low heat until the pasta is uniformly coated. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Comments:  Glad to inform my fear of mussels is a thing of the past.  I probably discarded more mussels than needed,  as I rather be safe than sorry, and was a bit insecure preparing them for the first time.  This is a delicious pasta! Of course, having great quality saffron adds a lot to it…  😉   Now that I am not afraid of cooking mussels, we will have them at our dinner table on a regular basis,  brightening up our Wednesdays, as we slowly move towards the weekend.

ONE YEAR AGO: Triple Chocolate Brownies

TWO YEARS AGO: Shanghai Soup Dumplings

THREE YEARS AGO: Bite-sized Chocolate Pleasure

THERE WILL BE BREAD


Drum roll, please…  

This post officially inaugurates the new kitchen in The Little Apple!  What better than a loaf of bread to start things on a nice track?  So, let me share with you a golden bread perfumed with the special saffron I received as a gift from our friend Steve. The bread looked like a blast of sunshine sitting on the black granite, and it made nice cracking noises as it cooled, the promise of a nice crumb underneath a hearty crust.

GOLDEN SAFFRON & FENNEL LOAF
(from the Bewitching Kitchen, inspired by Flo Makanai)

125 g  sourdough starter (at 100% hydration)
250 g water (divided)
large pinch of saffron
375 g bread flour
7 g salt
1 tsp fennel seeds

Heat 50 ml (no need to be precise) of water in a microwave until almost boiling, add the saffron and let it sit until it cools to almost room temperature, stirring every now and then.  Strain the saffron water through a fine mesh colander, and add to the rest of the water for a final volume of 250ml. Reserve.

Add the active starter to a large bowl, mix it with the water until it dissolves more or less smoothly. Add the flour and the fennel seeds, and briefly do a few kneading moves to form a shaggy mess.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap for 20 minutes.

Sprinkle the salt over the dough and incorporate by kneading lightly and folding the dough on itself.  You can keep the dough in the bowl, or transfer to a surface.  After 20-30 seconds of kneading/folding, cover the dough again and let it sit for 40 minutes (total rising time up to this point: 1 hour).

Repeat cycles of quick kneading/folding two more times, spacing them 40 to 50 minutes.   After the third and final kneading cycle, let the dough sit for 20 to 30 minutes, shape it as a round or oval loaf, and leave it at room temperature  30 minutes longer.  Total rising time from beginning to end: about 3 and a half hours.  Place it in the fridge overnight.

Remove the dough from the fridge 2 hours before baking (see my comments). Heat the oven to 450F. If using a clay pot, place it in the cold oven as you turn it on. Bake the bread covered for 30 minutes, remove cover, and allow it to fully bake (reducing the temperature to 425F if the bread seems to be browning too fast) for 12 to 15 minutes longer.  Remove to a rack to cool completely before slicing.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  It’s been a while since I baked a loaf of bread that made me as happy as this one! I’d been refreshing my starter for weeks in a row, but placing it back in the fridge, unable to squeeze bread baking in our crazy schedule.  My cookbooks are not unpacked yet, so I decided to go with the simple but very efficient method devised by Flo Makanai years ago: her famous 1, 2, 3 recipe.   One part starter, 2 parts water, 3 parts flour.  You can adapt and use any liquid or flour, but that’s the basic formula.   I wanted to incorporate saffron in the dough, and fennel seemed like a good match too.  Considering that it was not a tried and true recipe, and that it would be my first time using the oven in our new home, I admit I was  pushing the envelope. Interesting expression, by the way, I learned its origin not too long ago, and was a bit surprised. No Post Office material was used in its making.  Live, and learn.

Live, learn, and bake!  😉

To add a bit more emotion to the adventure, I could not find my banettons to proof the dough after shaping.  I actually have two, one round, and one oval, but they are both MIA, probably hidden inside one of the unpacked boxes.  I ended up using a copper colander, lined with a white cloth.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

I pushed the envelope once more by removing the dough from the fridge only 30 minutes before placing it in the 450F oven, trying to minimize the time our kitchen would be exposed to such insanely high temperature. Still, the bread had an impressive oven spring, and the beautiful, golden open crumb I hoped for.  It would be amazing with paella or a bowl of bouillabaisse, but until the weather cools enough for those dishes, we’ll enjoy it with fresh, juicy tomatoes and a sprinkle of Maldon salt.   Simple pleasures. Golden pleasures.

A final remark: I wish I could take credit for the title of this post, but my beloved husband was the genius behind it…  Sorry, ladies, he’s mine, all mine!

I am submitting this post to Susan’s Yeastspotting.

ONE YEAR AGO: In My Kitchen, July 2011

TWO YEARS AGO: Heavenly Homemade Fromage Blanc

THREE YEARS AGO: A Perfect Sunday Dinner