From the kitchen: baking trick

Hello all! I wish to share with you a rather known trick to let a simple electric oven bake bread with wonderfully crispy crust.

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Bread #16: the best crust so far, thin and tasty

Various baking websites and books recommend to have high humidity for the beginning of the baking process. Professional baking ovens have built-in water sprays that allow to regulate humidity at will, but they are quite expensive. At my mum’s house there is a gas oven. When gas is burnt, it produces small amounts of vapour, that is perfect for bread (and most of oven dishes too). Electric ovens don’t burn anything, so the air inside becomes dry very fast. You notice that if you bake bread and its crust is thick and very hard. It means it has dried out too much and has lost all humidity.

I have bought a relatively cheap electric oven and have only lately started making bread. I quickly realised that the crust was always too thick and dry, so I managed to solve the low humidity issue by adding a baking tin with around one glass of water right before warming the oven up, and leaving it there until the end of baking. The amount of water evaporates during the baking process, so that the tin can stay in the oven until it cools down and it’s safe to remove.

The second improvement is about the surface on which the bread cooks. I used to bake on a metal tin (the one that I decided to fill with water) and I read that a ceramic surface is very suitable for baking. Therefore I used my biggest porcelain casserole dish, upside down (so that the bread will be on the rough, porous surface). I put it in the oven before warming it up, so that the bread will be on a warm surface from the start. It is a bit tricky to put the bread in the oven, but with a small wooden cutting board as support, I manage to transfer the bread on its piece of baking paper quite safely.

I have baked three times with this setup and I am very happy with the flavour and texture of the crust.

Happy baking everyone!

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Today’s bread, my #17: roggen, dinkel vollkorn, sunflower and flax seeds, roggen-sourdough
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From the kitchen: Pellegrino Artusi’s cookbook

Today I wish to write about an iconic Italian cookbook: La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene, from Pellegrino Artusi. It is so famous that people call it simply “l’Artusi”. The book is the collection of hundreds of regional and family recipes from all around Italy, sampled by Artusi during his business travels and published, with significant difficulties, in 1891. No editor dared to publish such a book, considering it too trivial, so he resolved to publish the first edition at his own expenses and risk. After a short time, with great surprise, he became so popular that it sold over 1 million copies and reached 111 editions!

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I bought a copy of it on a street market in Mantua, not suspecting its value, and after a closer inspection, not understanding why someone would sell it. Each recipe starts with a paragraph about how and where he first knew about the dish, a careful explanation of the cooking steps and special attention to the quality of ingredients. It is nowadays not easy to put into practice, because tools, ingredients and quantities have changed so much: he often mentions the large ovens that were common in farms (forni da campagna), meat cuts that I have never seen, and suggests to cook for 8-12 people. It is more an overview of the Italian society than a cookbook, with its rich descriptions, hints on ingredients availability, perils of travelling, funny anecdotes, common ailments, even the final section with menu suggestions for the common holidays you find “Festa dello Statuto”, that was the anniversary of the first Constitution approved by the king.

I have read it in Italian, the rich, musical, aged Italian of the book’s last edition of 1911. There are translations in multiple languages, that I hope keep its peculiar atmosphere. Enjoy!

From the kitchen: coconut sablés

For a friends’ party I challenged myself with a new biscuit recipe. It was risky for two reasons, first because it was a recipe untested by me, second because I am not so good at biscuit baking.

Nevertheless, full of optimism, I baked a batch of coconut biscuits following this recipe from La Tendresse en Cuisine [in French] and this is how they came out:

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They look nice and crumbly but they were way too dry. I believe that my difficulties come from my inability to understand if the intermediate steps are correctly done. Actually, the pâte sablée had a wonderfully crumbly texture. I wonder what I did wrong, or at least, not well enough.

Anyway, they are all gone! Let’s see how I do next 🙂

From the kitchen: khichdi

For this week’s cooking post I chose a dish I like a lot: khichdi, a rice and lentils dish, very popular in South Asia. This dish has endless variants and names, according to the region where it is prepared and the ingredients that it contains.

My recipe of today aims to be a sort of blueprint, that you can adapt to the ingredients in your cupboard and to your taste.

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Ingredients:

  • rice (basmati or jasmine do fine)
  • lentils, dal or small pulses in around the same quantity of rice
  • spices:
    • turmeric powder
    • one or two bay leaves
    • coriander
    • cumin
    • fenugreek (optional)
    • salt
    • chili (optional)
  • a fat: olive oil, or butter, or ghee, or coconut oil
  • coriander leaves, and/or basil, and/or parsley (fresh would be the best)
  • yoghurt (optional)

Preparation (~2h soaking + ~30min cooking):

Soak the lentils if needed (check instructions on the package, or rely on your experience). Wash lentils and rice together, until the water comes out clean. Optionally let both soak in water for 1 or 2 hours before cooking.

Put rice and lentils in a pot (a pressure cooker would speed up cooking, but is not required; any wide pot will do), cover them with warm water, add cumin and bay leaves and let cook until tender but not yet cooked. In the meanwhile, crush coriander, cumin and fenugreek in a mortar. (You can roast them before crushing them, using a small pan and no fat.) Slice some ginger, at your taste. When rice and lentils are halfway cooked, add the spices and let simmer for another 10 minutes or until tender. Add water if needed – more water will make the khichdi more soupy and easier to digest, while less water will make it more firm, risotto-like.

Add salt as the last thing, in the pot or in each dish.

On each dish, add crushed or minced coriander/basil/parsley leaves, your preferred fat, chili if you like, and/or pepper. A touch of yoghurt makes the dish deliciously creamy and enhances the spices’ flavours. Enjoy!

From the kitchen: easy chocolate cake

I’d like to share a recipe of a super simple chocolate cake I made recently. I was back from a 20-day trip abroad and I had not yet gone shopping, but this recipe asks for so few ingredients, none of them perishable, so I was able to bake this amazingly tasty and fluffy cake on the fly:

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Picture and recipe on Flickr

I have no other pictures, as it disappeared too fast!

Ingredients (for one cake or 12 muffins):

  • 200 g flour
  • 200 g sugar
  • 100 g dark chocolate (as powder or in bar – then melt it with some butter or milk)
  • 250 ml milk (cow milk or substitutes)
  • baking soda (the quantity recommended by its package)
  • optional: spices like cinnamon or vanilla

Mix flour and sugar in a bowl. Add the cocoa powder or the chocolate, previously melted with some butter or milk. Add milk, baking soda and spices. Mix well. Pour the mixture in a cake pan and bake for around half an hour at 180 degrees Celsius.

I was used to bake this kind of cakes with eggs, so this eggless recipe left me initially cold. After it came out of the oven and we tasted it, I changed my mind, the texture was perfect!

Recipe source: Il Ricettario Segreto del Lago Maggiore e d’Orta, by Franco Mora and Elisa Tognasca.