This Labor Day weekend has marked the end of summer in more ways than one. We took our youngest back to college and as any parent knows, that's especially difficult these days! It was like going through freshman year dorm move-in all over again, but this time in an apartment off campus. The preparation was so much heavier and detailed than anything I remember from having done this with my other two kids, just because of the pandemic and the extra layer of precaution it puts on everything. But we did it and left my daughter happy with her friends, in a cute little apartment that already has a Zelos care package and a lot of time-saving products for those days that a student needs to eat well and quickly.
Back to an empty house, it feels like becoming an empty nester all over again! The pandemic had brought my daughter back home and this totally changed the family balance, at least in our home. For me, it's the only positive thought about this difficult period of our lives. I can say without exaggerating that we had a blast having her at home. Like a good Greek family that places an inordinate amount of love through food, we spent a lot of time these past months cooking and tasting and experimenting with food. We had all the time in the world and very few other distractions. I'll miss having her around to cook and bake, more particularly baking bread. There's something awfully therapeutic about baking bread, to say nothing about the smell! I am planning to keep it up because it's great to have homemade bread for sandwiches and meals, even if it's just the two of us now. Since many of us are still working from home, you can especially enjoy this indulgence during lunch or snacks. Go on, read about all our bread adventures and maybe find inspiration for your own bread experiments!
Often, my daughter and I would bake the famous New York Times No-Knead bread recipe. It is a very easy recipe that consists of mixing all the ingredients together (no kneading required), letting it sit to rise overnight, then shaping it up and letting it rise for a couple hours more before baking it in a dutch oven. It makes the most delicious bread, with a nice crunchy crust and moist interior (I am sharing the ingredients and preparation instructions at the end of the blog).
At some point, we started experimenting to give it more of a Greek twist and I can assure you that it worked well every time. You just need to add the extra ingredients when you prepare the dough before it rises. We chopped one cup of Tragano Greek Organics red Capia roasted peppers and had the most delicious snack, dipping it in some olive oil (especially when it came out hot from the oven!).
What would a Greek bread be without some Kalamata olives?! Just a cup of sliced Tragano Greek Organics Kalamata olives can make all the difference. Be careful with this one, you can seriously get hooked on it and won't stop eating it!
Soon into our quarantine, we started having issues finding flour and could only find wholewheat flour, which is delicious but makes for a drier and denser bread. I personally like it a lot like that but the family was grumbling a bit so I added 1/2 a cup of Philippos Hellenic Goods organic extra virgin olive oil in my ingredients and baked it. As you may know I am an olive oil fanatic and I must say I love it. The olive oil gives a certain texture and moistness to the bread, same as it does for an olive oil cake, but the olive oil flavor is not pronounced at all...I highly recommend it!
Memory lane this spring took us back to Belgium, where all my kids were born, and my daughter and I decided to do a "pain gris" (gray bread, meaning that it is made with both white and dark flour). We substituted one cup of that hard-to-find white flour with one cup of whole wheat and here it was, our beloved Belgian bread! The gray bread is not as fluffy as a white bread, of course, but a little less dense than the full whole wheat version, so a nice balance of texture and crunch, just perfect!
Before closing, for any of you who are sensitive to gluten, you'll enjoy this gluten-free Greek village bread recipe, "horiatiko psomi", from our friend Pamela in Okinawa. I wrote about her latest adventures in last week's blog and we often joke that she's more Greek than I am! I love how she takes traditional Greek recipes and adapts them for today's lifestyle, and this bread recipe is just one example of that.
So happy baking and bread-making my friends and if you have any bread ideas to share, let us know, we would love to try them!
3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 tsp dry yeast
2 tsp salt
Mix all the dry ingredients in a big bowl. Add the water and mix with a wooden spatula to create the dough. It's not important to knead or shape it.
Cover with plastic wrap and let your mixture stand in ambient temperature for 12 to 18 hours (the more time the better it will be).
When the dough is ready, sprinkle your kitchen counter surface with some flour and place the dough on it. Sprinkle with some more flour and starting from the edges stretch a little and fold the dough to the center 3-4 times. Shape it like a little ball, sprinkle with flour or corn meal, and let it rest for a couple more hours.
Pre-heat the oven really well to 400ºF, at least half hour before baking your bread. Place a dutch oven or other heavy pot that has a cover in the oven to warm it up, I used ceramic and other friends used pyrex.
When ready to bake the bread, take the dutch oven or pot out of the oven, carefully open the lid and place the dough inside. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Take the lid off and bake for another 30 minutes until the bread is nicely browned and crusty.
I very often take a shortcut that I want to share. After I shape my bread I put it inside my covered dutch oven and I start my oven. I bake for a whole hour covered and then for another twenty minutes to half hour uncovered. It saves me the 2 hour wait at the last step and the bread is equally good!
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