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

Japan 2019 - 11 Breakfast at the Ritz

The ceramics tour being over, Joan and I went to Kyoto, one of my favorite places in the world. We stayed at the beautiful Ritz Carlton Hotel.

The Ritz's Western-style breakfast buffet is formidable -- one of the best anywhere -- but we went to the Japanese restaurant for a traditional breakfast our first morning there. It was a pretty stunning array of Japanese breakfast favorites, served beautifully in a gorgeous room.

Our last Japanese breakfast of 2019 was a good one.

Bobby Jay

Friday, December 13, 2019

Japan 2019 - 10 End of Tour Dinner

Well, all good things must come to an end, and our tour ended with a Halloween-themed farewell dinner at the Westin Hotel in Sendai, an unexpectedly good hotel in what turns out to be a lovely city. And our goodbye dinner at the hotel was astoundingly good given where we were.

After champagne and amuse-bouches, the meal started with a mi-cuit salmon with pumpkin seeds, mandarin orange sauce, garlic and vinegar.

Mi-cuit salmon with pumpkin seeds
There followed a really lovely pumpkin soup with cèpes

Pumpkin soup with cèpes
For the fish course, pan-fried lobster mackerel, potato and kale puree, with a mushroom and leek sauce.

Pan-fried lobster
The meat course wah roasted duck breast with butternut squash, fig and port wine sauce.

Roasted duck breast
Continuing the Halloween theme, dessert was a pumpkin Mont-blanc with chestnut ice cream.

And truly embracing the concept was our intrepid guide Andy, who was wonderful in every way!

Andy in costume
A wonderful end to our tour.

Bobby Jay

Japan 2019 - 9 Whimsical Japanese Food

When in Japan I love to try weird foods that you find in vending machines or elsewhere.

At Tokyo Midtown, a multi-purpose complex in Roppongi, we happened upon this popular ice cream place, with an array of interesting flavor combinations. Sorry, you'll have to blow it up to see them all but here they are (top to bottom, left to right: lemon-ginger, chocolat-banane, soy-strawberry, soy fruit mix,soy macha, milky mix, blueberry yogurt, kaki (persimmon) hojicha, pumpkin, mont-blanc, mix east, and annin(?) mango lychee.

Some cool items found in vending machines. First, this machine that dispensed corn soup, a favorite, either hot or cold: very sophisticated.

Corn soup in vending machine: hot or cold
Then I found one machine with corn soup and clam chowder. I had to try to chowder and can say that it was one of the worst things I've ever eaten. Fortunately, no need to be polite so tossed immediately.

Finally, a great ice cream vending machine on a train platform, with at least 17 different flavors.

Ice cream vending machine
Other things the Japanese love: Tokyo Banana, a  sponge cake with banana custard filling (reminds me of a Twinkie), and KitKats, here a banana-flavored one.

KitKat and Tokyo Banana
And there's so much more. Japanese food can be sublime or not-so-sublime. I love it!

Bobby Jay

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Japan 2019 - 8 A Typical Excellent Lunch

Due to the typhoon, our schedule was frequently changed and one day we found ourselves in Odawara with no restaurant plan. Our tour company scrambled and sent us to a typical tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) place, where we ate very well indeed.

Here we are at this simple place, ordering and eating happily, whether

Our group at a typical tonkatsu restaurant
tonkatsu (pork cutlet) served classically with astonishing amounts of shredded cabbage that you somehow finish,

or okonomiyaki (omelet)

in an atmosphere of kitsch, with bread scuptures made by the owners of this family-run place.

Bread sculptures at tonkatsu place
These were so charming that I took this bread pig as a gift and kept if for the remainder of our trip.

My very own bread pig from the tonkatsu place
What a pleasure!

Bobby Jay