Sunday, January 16, 2022

Back to bread baking

Olive and walnut sourdough bread

I haven’t been making bread for nearly 18 months due to our having to move out of our apartment for four months while renovations were being done, and then our having bought a country home where we spend weekends. I have missed the thrill of home bread-baking so decided to resume, finding a new schedule that avoids weekend preparation.

I bought a lovely new book called Upper Crust: Homemade Bread the French Way, by Marie-Laure Fréchet, and thought this might offer some new opportunities; after all -- France and bread. Maybe it’s me, but my first two tries at a “tourte de meule,” a pretty basic white whole wheat sourdough, were abject failures. Lead weights, useful as a stone for olympic curling , but not fit to eat.

Pretty, but inedible tourte de meule

So I returned to my tried and true sourdough walnut and olive bread for which a use a hybrid of ????‘S levain method, as described in Chad Robertson’s brilliant Tartine Bread, and the sourdough method published by King Arthur Flour Company. Wow, nailed it the first time!

And when I sliced it several hours later, it did not disappoint: salty with a nice texture and an unctuous mouth feel.

I haven't given up on the French method book yet, but I'll try to combine the author's ideas with techniques that I know work for me.

Bobby Jay

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

La Rôtisserie de l"Argent: The best oeuf mayonnaise in the world

I haven't posted lately due to a sort of paralysis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. While I continued to cook, and to read about and study cooking, someohow the zest was not there as in normal times. Perhaps because I had to cook, all the time, and was unable to mix it up with dining out at our normal haunts. Particularly difficult was not getting to Paris for nearly two years. 

However . . . we did get to Paris for a few days in December, before the raging Omicron virus spooked us and caused us to leave early. Still, before we left we were able to return to one of our favorite restaurants, La Rôtisserie d'Argent (formerly Rôtisserie du Beaujolais), and found it better than ever. They have gradually raised the level of the cuisine over the years to much better than very good bistro food to quite elegant, while maintaining the casual, friendly atmosphere that has prevailed there for decades.

In two visits, one with a friend, we sampled quite a few of the restaurant's dishes -- duck several ways, pork, salad and dessert -- and all were excellent. But for me the highlight was their oeuf mayonnaise, which I had both nights and which had recently won the Championnat du Monde de l'Oeuf Mayonnaise, sponsored, of course, by the Association de Sauvegarde de l'Oeuf Mayonnaise. Only in France, the land of AAAAA andouilette (which carries the certification of the Association Amicale des Amateurs de l'Andouillette Authentique) and other organizations watching over the most traditional French foods, including cheeses and cassoulet.

What's so great about La Rôtisserie's oeuf mayo? Everything. Look at it:


Oeuf mayonnaise at La Rôtisserie d'Argent

perfect texture, a yolk that straddles the middle ground between hard- and medium-boiled, a yielding white, a wonderful mayonnaise with just a hint of cumin, mustard seeds cooked in a lovely balsamic vinegar and twigs of thyme, all bundled up in a glorious package.

 No wonder it was declared the best in the world! 

Oeuf mayo may not be the height of gastronomy, but there is something about being in Paris, partaking of a perfectly rendered French classic dish, that never gets old.

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

First Downtown Shopping in 15 Months: A Thrill

Having been fully vaccinated for eleven weeks, I finally got up the courage to take the subway today, which I had been avoiding for hard-to-define emotional reasons. My first outing took me to my favorite shopping destinations, Kalustyan's and Eataly, and I found both to be nearly the same as in pre-pandemic times. As you can see, I had pretty nice results at both places.

At Kalustyans, I was able to replenish certain spices, replacing the mediocre sumac, za'atar and cumin powder that I bought at the supermarkets with real, intense, fresh versions. And also to restock some favorites: Indian snacks, nougat, homemade preserved lemons, mango chutney and ginger pickle. Also good-quality staples like Tellicherry peppercorns, Persian pistachios and course polenta.

My haul from Kalustyan's

At Eataly, too, I returned to some old favorites.  My favorite Sicilian mandranova olive oil, porchetta, 24-month old Friulian prosciutto, Salvatore's smoked ricotta, wonderful artisanal pasta, excellent Italian jarred tuna, an interesting chocolate bar and some heirloom tomatoes.

Old favorites at Eataly
Although this was an ordinary expedition, these days ordinary is thrilling, and I had a great time. I look forward to more wonderful, normal outings in the weeks and months ahead. 

Bobby Jay

Wednesday, March 31, 2021


I haven't posted in forever, because I've been cooking so often that I want to be done with it. I have continued to make sourdough bread about once a week, but no exciting new discoveries. Until now.

Having had some time on my hands yesterday, with guests coming for dinner tonight, I decided to bake matzohs. Searching my cookbooks with, I came upon a recipe for Mediterranean Matzohs in Rose Levy Baranbaum's The Bread Bible.  (Rosemary and a little olive oil make them Mediterranean, I guess.) Not hard to do, and came out looking very artisanal and tasting quite good. 

Bobby Jay

Monday, October 12, 2020

Bread Baking in Strange Times (Pain de mic) - Part II

As the pandemic has proceeded, I have continued to bake bread until recently, when Joan and I vacated our apartment to permit some fairly extensive renovations to proceed.

My last post ended with my Tartine/King Arthur Olive bread of June 19. But I have persevered, and present, in excruciating detail probably, my results of the summer.

 On June 25, I made walnut bread, using Tartine's proportions and techniques with King Arthur's sourdough method. A tasty,  beautifully risen loaf.

Tartine/King Arthur walnut loaf

 I repeated this, again to good effect, on July 2.

Tartine/King Arthur walnut loaf

Then I went back to the olive loaf that had been so successful in June. Still delicious.

Tartine/King Arthur olive bread

Next I thought I'd be clever and do a hazelnut bread instead of walnut. It was OK but not a rich or interesting as the walnut, even though I added a tablespoon of hazelnut oil.

Tartine/King Arthur/ Bobby Jay hazelnut bread

Next I discovered the perfect bread: olive walnut bread using Tartine's proportions and technique with King Arthur's easier method. I made this bread twice, on July 27 and August 2. It is salty, olive-y, nutty and rich, all at the same time. As good as any bread I have eaten!

Tartine/King Arthur olive walnut bread July 27, 2020    
Tartine/King Arthur olive walnut bread August 2, 2020

Next, I went back to an old favorite on August 8: sesame bread, again using the Tartine formula and the King Arthur method. A beautiful loaf with lots of sesame taste, almost as good as She-Wolf Bakery's version.

Tartine/King Arthur sesame bread

Then I bought a new book: New World Sourdough, by Bryan Ford. A fun read, with a lot of interesting breads from South America. I decided to make his "toasty seed sour," which contains sesame seeds, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and rolled oats. I used a hybrid of Ford's method and King Arthur's and got a good, but not great, loaf. I found the many seeds not to product distinctive flavors, just a nice seedy mix.

Bryan Ford "toasty seed sour"

Enough experimentation: I determined to bake bread for our cousins, whom we were going to meet in a park in Connecticut, as well as one for Joan and me, so I used the King Arthur method, but made with 1000 grams of flour rather than 600. I went to my tried and true olive walnut bread, and nailed it again on August 28:

Tartine/King Arthur olive walnut loaves

I returned to sesame on September 3, making my best ever version of this bread, again using a hybrid of Tartine's and King Arthur's methods. Light texture with seriously deep sesame taste.

Tartine/King Arthur sesame bread

For what I expected to be my last bread of the summer, I went to my absolute favorite one last time: olvie walnut bread. It did not disappoint.

Tartine/King Arthur olive walnut bread

 It turned out I was wrong, though, and was able to get in another bread before leaving our apartment. So I went with one of my favorite Tartine breads -- semolina with fennel, sesame and poppy seeds -- and tried using the King Arthur method. Oops! This was not a great success, as I did not make the proper adjustments for the trickier semolina flour. The taste was great, the crust was thick and dark, but the bread was too dense, almost like a dense cake.

Tartine/King Arthur semolina bread with 3 seeds

So that's it for my pandemic bread baking, at least until we get back into our apartment, Christmas at the earliest. In the meantime, I content myself with buying the truly superb breads made by Brooklyn's She-Wolf Bakery, which I find at the Sunday open air market surrounding the Museum of Natural History.

Bobby Jay

Friday, June 19, 2020

Bread Baking in Strange Times (Pain de mic)

Tartine/King Arthur Olive Loaf June 19, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic, and the attendant lockdown, has been a crazy experience. I have been cooking almost every night, and we've been home for lunch, too, so in three months I have done nearly a year's cooking. Which I like and which keeps me sane.

Like many other people, I have been baking. Notwithstanding a few cakes and cookies, this means BREAD!

Luckily, since yeast was not available in the markets, I use levain (Tartine Bakery's version of sourdough) and a very slow-rising technique. King Arthur, my former go-to place for starter, was out, so I got starter from Breadtopia on line, and it is a very vibrant starter from the moment you get it. I feed it regularly, using the Tartine formula of 50/50 bread and whole wheat flours. And that's how I started my pandemic baking.

After She-Wolf Bakery came to the Upper West Side Sunday farmers' market, I virtually stopped baking bread, since there's was better and all I had to do was to pay for it. However, this changed when the pandemic arrived, and I decided to go back to baking my own.

To get my bread-baking chops going, I started with Tartine's

Basic country bread.

Country loaf April 3, 2020
More than once.

Country loaf April 7, 2020

Not surprisingly, the second effort was more successful.

Then I moved on to some of Tartine's more advanced breads:

Oat porridge bread:

Oat porridge bread April 13, 2020

A good-tasting, gorgeous bread, but heavy and a bit flat.

Semolina bread with fennel, sesame and poppy seeds:

Semolina bread with fennel, sesame and poppy seeds April 20, 2020

One of my all-time favorites, but a little flat. My technique was not quite there yet.

Country rye bread:

Country rye loaf April 26, 2020
Farro porridge bread:

Farro porridge bread May 1, 2020

Then back to my favorite

Semolina bread with fennel, sesame and poppy seeds

Semolina bread with fennel, sesame and poppy seeds May 8, 2020


While wandering around on King Arthur's website, I came across a recipe for sourdough bread made in a way similar to Tartine's but with easier timing. You make the dough the night before (it has to rest and be folded once an hour for three hours before spending 8-48 hours in the fridge). On baking day, you just shape it, plop it into your covered iron bread baking pan (I use a Lodge Combo, as recommended by Tartine), wait three hours for it to come to room temperature and bake.

King Arthur's sourdough bread:

King Arthur's sourdough bread May 14, 2020

And it was good. Lighter than Tartine's and almost as tasty.

Now a detour. A high school friend's daughter, Beryl Forman, sent me the recipe for her well-publicized olive loaf.

Beryl Forman's olive loat (modified) May 26, 2020

Beryl uses the regular oven with a few sprays of water, rather than the Dutch oven method, to keep the moisture level right, but I opted for a hybrid of the Tartine and King Arther methods. A very nice loaf but not as olive-y or salty as I would have liked.

Then back to Tartine. Yet another go at

Semolina bread with fennel, sesame and poppy seeds:

Semolina bread with fennel, sesame and poppy seeds June 6, 2020
Now I determined to use Tartine's formula for olive bread, which uses more olives and in bigger pieces than Beryl's (two cups mixed green and black olives, quite coarsely chopped), but with the King Arthur sourdough method.

Tartine/King Arthur sourdough olive bread:

Tartine/King Arthur sourdough olive loaf June 13, 2020
It was great, lots of salty olive and olive oil taste with a lovely crumb. Just a tiny bit flat, though. So I tried again today, and nailed it! See the first picture at the top. And the recipe below.

Next I'm going to try the same thing but with toasted walnuts instead of olives. Will report back.

Bobby Jay
No-knead Sourdough [Olive] Bread
(King Arthur and Tartine for olives and/or walnuts

Make one big loaf



·       1 cup (227g) ripe (fed) sourdough starter
·       1 3/4 cups (397g) lukewarm water
·       5 cups (602g) King Bread Flour
·       1 tablespoon (18g) salt
·       Optional: 1 cup cured black and 1 cup green olives, coarsely chopped and/or chopped toasted walnuts
·       2 teaspoons diastatic malt powder, optional for a more golden color and stronger rise (I don’t use)

Day 1 time 0:00

1       Weigh your flour; or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess.

2       Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl, or a large (6-quart) food-safe plastic bucket.

3       Mix and stir everything together to make a sticky, rough dough. If you have a stand mixer, beat at medium speed with the paddle attachment for 30 to 60 seconds. Or just stir with a big spoon or dough whisk until everything is combined.

Day 1 time 0:00– 3:00

4       Leave the dough in the bucket or 6-quart bowl, cover it with the bucket’s lid or a piece of plastic wrap, and let rise for 1 hour.

5       Gently pick up the dough and fold it over on itself several times, cover it again, and let it rise for another hour.

6       Repeat step 5 and place bread in bucket/bowl  in the fridge for 8-48 hours

Day 2 time 0:00

7       When you're ready to make bread, turn the dough out onto a well-floured work surface, and shape it into a rough ball. Leave the dough seam-side up, cover it, and let it rest on a floured surface for 15 minutes.

Day 2 time 0:15

8       Next, shape the dough to fit the vessel in which you’ll bake it: a 13” log for a long covered baker, such as KAs glazed long covered baker; or a large boule (round) for a round baker or Dutch oven. Place the shaped dough into the lightly greased base of the baker and cover it with the lid. Let the loaf warm to room temperature and rise; this should take about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. It won't appear to rise upwards that much, but will relax and expand.

Day 2 time 2:15

9       With a rack positioned in the middle, start preheating the oven to 500°F one hour before you’re ready to bake.

Day 2 time 3:15

10     Just before baking, dust the loaf with a fine coat of flour and use a lame or a sharp knife to make one or several 1/2” deep slashes through its top surface. If you're baking a long loaf, one arched slash down the loaf lengthwise is nice, or if baking a round, a crosshatch or crisscross pattern works well.

11     Cover the baker with its lid and place it in the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 450°F and bake the bread for 45 minutes.

Day 2 time 4:00

12     Remove the cover of the baker and bake the bread for 10 to 15 minutes longer, until the bread is deep golden brown and crusty, and a digital thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads at least 210°F.

Day 2 time 4:10-4:15

13     Remove the bread from the oven and transfer it to a rack to cool completely.


Sunday, December 15, 2019

Japan 2019 - 13 My New Chef Friend

Our friend Robert Yellin took Joan and me to a wonderful little Japanese place in Kyoto called Kiharu, one of his favorite haunts. In addition to having an excellent meal, of which but one example is this grilled chicken dish,

Grilled chicken with scallions
I bonded with the the joyous owner chef, Takashi Tsubaki. Here you can see Tsubaki-san hard at work, and loving every minute of being a chef.

Chef Takashi Tsubaki at work
It was persimmon season in Kyoto and somehow I got to talking about my persimmon tarte tatin. Tsubaki was very intrigued and asked about other things that I considered my specialties. I mentioned my crusty Persian rice, which he had never heard of but, as a rice specialist and lover, was excited to try.

So we made a plan to have a dinner party for our Kyoto friends at Kiharu, for which Tsubaki-san and I would prepare the food, preferably including the persimmon tarte tatin and the Persian rice. The fact that he has no oven makes the tarte tatin a challenge, but I hope to work through it somehow. The rice can be made anywhere. What a rare opportunity!!! I can hardly wait.

A good time was had by all, as you can see.

Chef Tsubaki, Robert, Chiho, Joan and me at Kiharu
Bobby Jay

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Japan 2019 - 12 Kyoto's Nishiki Market

I love Kyoto and one of my favorite things to do there is to visit the Nishiki market, a large covered street market that is open every day. Some food snobs have told me that it does not have the best of everything, but since I am mostly just looking, the huge array of every kind of Japanese food item is perfect.

As at any great market, the vendors are very specialized. Here a bean seller, a dried-fish seller who makes gorgeous fish chips, a squid seller and, of course (!) a sparrow yakitori place.

Bean purveyor
Dried fish seller who makes fish chips
Sparrow yakitori anyone?
This year I had a nice experience returning to a sembei (Japanese rice cracker) dealer whom I had visited in 2017. When I told her that, she expressed really touching gratitude and delight, as can be seen in this photo.

My friend the sembei seller
One of my favorite stops is the dried bonito maker. They sell dried bonito cakes, which you can shave at home to make dashi, the all-purpose broth used in Japanese cooking, or they shave it themselves and sell it in packages, the way you've seen it in stores.

Dried bonito, whole and shaved
And, of course, the seller of ingredients for oden, a broth served with all kinds of (mostly rubbery) seafood based products, like fish cakes, as well as weird vegetable things, including konnyaku (kind of a superhard potato-basdd jello).

Oden ingredients
This year I saw a new display: Snoopy's tea shop, which included teas and also cookies and cakes to eat with tea. Part of Japan's kawai (cuteness) culture.

Snoopy's tea shop
I love takoyaki, grilled dumplings stuffed with bits of octopus and served with a sauce and, typically, pickled ginger. Here you can see the process: batter poured over octopus in takoyaki pan (center), dumplings coming together (left) and nearly complete takoyaki, moments away from sale (right). Once I made this with my friend Kondo Hiromi, a wonderful Kyoto art jewelry dealer who happens to be a great cook.

Takoyaki in various stages of preparation
Other favorites include freshly made mochi with matcha powder and some mysterious cream cookies, which I foolishly didn't try.

Freshly made mochi and cookies
Oops, I almost left out this seller of squid in a different form than shown above, grilled on skewers and ready to eat.

Grilled squid on skewers
I have already gone on and on, and could do more, but you get the idea. The Nishiki market is a must for any visitor to Kyoto who loves food.

Bobby Jay