*this originally appeared and is adapted from my Dean & DeLuca column.
I am not a baker. I bake flan, my claim to fame, but I don’t even consider that a qualifier as a bona fide baker.
As a chef and one that loves to eat, being somewhat deficient in baking poses a problem when it comes down to bread, the one food I think can easily sustain us all. Bread-making has been known to mankind for over 6,000 years. Through its evolution, many methods of creating the perfect bread with the crustiest crust, because that’s what it’s really all about, have made it to mainstream kitchens and have been modified. Yeast, water, dough and endless kneading are the essential components to making any kind of bread.
Since those are the key ingredients to a basic bread recipe give or take variations of wonderfully infused bread with rosemary or garlic; then what distinguishes one loaf from another? I’ve had hundreds of breads and the one thing that keeps me dipping it in olive oil or slathering it with whipped butter is one where the dough has wholes and the bread is crispy and crusty but not charred. But it’s the absolute best way to enjoy bread.
Recently I went on a quest to master bread-baking, whether its loaves, pizza rounds, doughnuts, bagels, sticks or boule. I connected with my Facebook friend Zoë Francois, a well-known pastry chef, to research what tricks and tips she has that make her breads look amazing enough to forgo the impending full entrée. The information [in ‘Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day’, 2009] was too much to process and would take her whole book, dedicated to artisan and healthy breads, to really master the concept of successful bread- baking. I took notes and asked questions.
The information was so much.
I found myself mentally drifting off, daydreaming of Cuban bread, the one bread I love most. I suppose I take Cuban bread for granted since it relates to my own cuisine and it’s the only bread I grew up having for breakfast every morning (and for dinner). Other, more complicated breads are a mystery to me. Baking bread is an art, a skill not everyone has. After processing all the information Zoë so kindly and generously imparted, I simply sifted through her very detailed breadopedia as I call it, and selected a very appealing recipe. Or should I say one that is easy enough for the novice to make and fuss-free to keep you sane.
As summer continues to beat me down and I pray for cooler days, though I’m not entirely ready for fall, I thought this peppery pumpkin and olive oil brioche is deliciously apropos for the [soon coming] transitioning weather and delicious enough to take a stab at on a lazy weekend!
Until I actually make it myself, here is the recipe.
(my hipstamatic shot!)
(Pain au Potiron)
Eat well, love unapologetically, pray with true intention, and take care of yourself.
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Pain au Potiron
As published in ‘Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day’
(Jeff Hertzber, M.D., & Zoë Francois)
- 3¾ cups whole wheat flour
- 3½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1½ tablespoons granulated yeast, or 2 packets (increase or decrease to taste)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt (increase or decrease to taste)
- 2 tablespoon vital wheat gluten
- 3½ cups lukewarm water
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1¼ cups peeled, ¼-inch diced raw pie pumpkin (sometimes called “sugar” pumpkin)
- Fresh-ground pepper
Mixing and storing the dough: Whisk together the flours, yeast, salt, and vital wheat gluten in a 5-quart bowl, or a lidded (not airtight) food container. Generously season the pumpkin, squash, or sweet potato with fresh-ground pepper. Add the liquid ingredients and the seasoned pumpkin to the dry ingredients. Mix without kneading using a spoon until it comes together in a wet dough. Cover (not airtight), and allow to rest at room temperature until dough rises and collapses (or flattens on top), about 2 hours. Do not punch down! Dough can be used immediately after rising, though it is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 10 days. Flavor will be best if you wait for at least 24 hours.
On baking day, dust the surface of the dough with flour and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece. Dust with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Elongate the ball into a narrow oval. Allow to rest on a pizza peel prepared with cornmeal or lined with parchment for 90 minutes (40 minutes if you’re using fresh, unrefrigerated dough).
Thirty minutes before baking, preheat a baking stone in the middle of the oven to 450°F, with a broiler tray on any other shelf that won’t interfere with rising bread.
Using a pastry brush, paint the top crust with water. Slash with ¼-inch deep parallel cuts across the loaf, using a serrated bread knife.
Slide the loaf directly onto the hot stone. Pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray, and quickly close the oven door. Bake for about 30 minutes, until richly browned and firm.
Allow to cool on a rack before slicing and eating.