For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime. Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
Psalm 30:5

Thursday, December 12, 2013

BFF Focaccia

I thought I'd share my focaccia recipe, since that was what I made last weekend, and what we just ate for breakfast this morning. The first focaccia I ever made was using a breadmaker, following the recipe in the recipe booklet that came with the machine. It turned out well enough for me to fall in love with focaccia as a type of bread, so when I came across this focaccia recipe in The Best of, I had to try it.

This has been my go-to focaccia recipe since. First, it was just roasted garlic and rosemary. Then, a friend made focaccia and gave me a thick slab, stuffed full of sundried tomatoes, olives, caramelized onions and slatherings of olive oil. So a jar of sundried tomatoes and a jar of olives came to lodge (permanently) in my fridge, because who knows when you'll want to have foccacia? 

Loaves and loaves later, after artisanal bakeries and trendy cafes started blooming all over Singapore, I began encountering loaves of focaccia other than the ones which emerge from my oven. Wow, fancy focaccias with exotic toppings! For a moment, I felt silly - to have loaf in, loaf out, put together the very same focaccia time and time again. I suddenly felt like a Super Boring Person. I mean, why didn't I even think to try a different kind of focaccia? 

In response, I googled "authentic focaccia", and made a mental note that a friend had done focaccia with biga, and that since that sounds Italian, I should give it a go. Especially with my recent (re)discovery of the wonders of preferment. One sunny morning, figs were in season and therefore on sale and said hello to me during grocery shopping. And so a loaf of fresh fig focaccia transpired the next day. There was even the time I ventured so far as to bake a loaf of grape schiacciata. 

They were alright... but not as good as that focaccia, chewy, crusted with semolina and studded with savoury bits of sundried tomatoes and olives I'd come to love. Who says fancy is best? We all know what they say about that seasoned pair of jeans we've worn for the past ten years... and which we still regard as our favourite pair. That's how it is with this recipe - my favourite focaccia. Best friends forever!
Focaccia with Olives and Sundried Tomatoes
Adapted from The Best of
1 cup lukewarm water (should be slightly warm to the touch)
2 tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp honey
1 1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp semolina
1 tbsp italian herbs (dried)
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups bread flour
Olive oil, for drizzling
Semolina, for dusting
50 g sundried tomatoes, diced
50 g pitted green olives, diced
6-8 large cloves of garlic, roasted in their skins, diced
Salt and pepper

Hand-whisk the yeast and water in the bowl wherein you will be kneading the dough, and let it stand for 2 minutes.

Add the honey, salt, olive oil, semolina, herbs, and flours. Mix, then knead to form a soft elastic dough (I use my trusty KitchenAid. This forms a soft-ish dough, so it's hard to obtain the windowpane texture, especially with the presence of all-purpose flour with its lower gluten content, but don't worry. You'll know the dough is ready when it feels like your earlobe when a bit of it is pinched between your floured thumb and index finger. Mix in the tomatoes, olives, and garlic.

Once the dough is ready, leave it in a large, lightly oiled mixing bowl for 45 min, until almost doubled.

Next, give the dough a good punch-down. Simply punch out all the gas. Let it rest for a further 15 min. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees celcius. Prepare the baking sheet or pan you would be using by dusting generously with semolina.

Tip the dough out onto a lightly oiled worktop, and shape it however you please. Generally, this involves pressing the dough out to about a 1 inch thickness into your desired shape.

I like my focaccia as a single ovalish, rustic-looking loaf, but you might like to use a rectagular/square pan instead, so you can end up with focaccia squares instead of 4 odd-shaped pieces...

Finally, dimple the dough with your finger all over, and drizzle extra virgin olive oil generously all over, letting olive oil pool in the indentations. Season with salt and freshly-ground black pepper.

Bake for about 15 min (this is for a single loaf of focaccia. If you're having two smaller loaves, you'd probably need to check after 12 min).

Let cool on a cooling rack before cutting. Enjoy the oliv-ey goodness waft through your house and pretend you're in Tuscany...

Monday, December 2, 2013

Banana Nut Bread

My dad-in-law absolutely loves bananas. And he's also absolutely sweet when it comes to obliging his only daughter-in-law. All I did was ask for three bananas (I needed them for a smoothie but didn't have any), and he gave me a whole hand of them. That's the inspiration for this bread. I needed to use up the bananas fast!

Or maybe, I didn't. I could just have waited till they were mostly black and ready to be made into banana nut cake, or banana crunch muffins, or chunked and frozen, ready for the next smoothie.

But I was going to bake a loaf of bread, not the quickbread version of banana nut bread, with butter, and tasting more like cake. It was for breakfast, which meant that it had to aim to be more reminiscent of wholesomeness, rather than indulgent pampering. Of course, I do understand that some mornings, what we do need is indeed indulgent pampering. Never mind, we'll save that for another day.

And so, here is my yeasted version of banana nut bread, specifically: honey wheatgerm banana bread with pecans and dates. Ever since my discovery of preferment, I've more or less given up the straight dough method, as breads made with preferments are just so much better - unless you're eating freshly made bread within a couple of hours of its exit from the oven. Not a luxury I currently have! But bread baking with preferment is a luxury to me, too, due to the sheer amount of time the whole process takes. So I have been relying on the next best alternative : a water-roux, or tangzhong starter. Texture and softness wise, it's not bad.

Just out of the oven. Love the poof! 

Banana Nut Bread (Adapted from Christine's Recipes)

For the dough:
310 g bread flour
40 g toasted wheatgerm
5-6 g (2 tsp) yeast
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp + 2 tsp honey
120 g tangzhong (Directions on how to make this are available at Christine's site)
125 ml milk
1 egg (You'll also need a little more beaten egg for egg wash)
30 g butter, cut into small cubes

For the filling: 
A handful of chopped pecan nuts
2 just-ripe bananas, cut into small chunks
A handful of dates, diced

Knead : Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of your freestanding mixer, and make a well in the centre. Add everything else into the well, except the butter. Knead for 5 min until a smooth dough is formed. Add the butter and keep on kneading till all the butter is incorporated. Keep on kneading till the windowpane texture is achieved. Throw in the chopped pecans, and mix briefly.

First proof : Form the dough into a ball and place it in an oiled, large mixing bowl. Cover with a damp tea towel and let it proof for 40 min in a warm place. It should double in size.

Punch down and rest: After 40 min, punch the air out of the dough and shape it into four even balls. Leave to rest for 10 min.

Shape : Roll each ball out into an oval, and sprinkle the banana chunks and dates on. Roll up tightly, and place in a loaf tin. Repeat for the other three balls.

Final proof : Leave to proof for a final 40 min, with the tea towel draped over. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees celsius. Just before placing into the oven, brush the top of the loaf with beaten egg.

Bake : Bake for 30-40 min, checking if it is done after 30 min. Do also check the colour of the crust; I found that mine was bronze enough just after 10 min, and I had to place a sheet of aluminum foil over it as a result to prevent further darkening of the crust. When the loaf has a shiny bronzed color, and sounds hollow when rapped on the bottom of the tin, it's done.

 A pre-slicing pic

Stuffed and swirled with chunky, oozy banana date goodness!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Just so you know, patient reader

It is so much easier to dream, than to do. Each day, almost every waking hour, my mind is inspired by ideas and more ideas - more than I could ever keep track of, especially since keeping track has never been my forte. Ever since that last post two weeks ago, determined to revive this little blog, I seem to have been thinking in terms of posts - and there have been many, ranging from the latest kitchen tips and tricks, to a growing pile of children's books to introduce, to more serious musings from recent life lessons. 

At first, it was fun, but now that the adrenaline has worn off, and the pressure of some impending real-life deadlines draw near, I just feel like I'm now left with a pile of rubble. To honest truth is, I have just not been able to find the time to write posts, when I did have things to say (no matter how frivolous they seemed). Hours are spent at work, keeping house or cleaning, spending time with loved ones, attending dance classes, grocery shopping, eating, or reading. Taking time out to write amidst all that, almost feels like a waste - like I am forgoing real life for something insubstantial. Time spent writing = less time available for real life. What's worse, some of the ideas about which I had wanted to write have become so over-rehearsed in my mind, that they feel like a loaf of stale bread, no longer fit for eating. 

So here I am, writing this, instead of a post about the adventures with baking chocolate marbled bread and marble butter cake, instead of sharing with you my thoughts after Sunday service last week, instead of uploading blow by blow pictures of how we pruned our basil plant yesterday and ended up making and giving away jars of delicious pesto. 

It might have been easier to keep radio silence - after all, hasn't that been more the norm than the exception since the unannounced appearance of the first post? Yet somehow, I feel a sense of unexplainable accountability to my most-likely non-existent readers. 

Wasn't that a really beating-round-the-bush way of saying "I'm lagging!" or "I'm on a hiatus!"? Yet, truth be told that neither of those truly describes what's happening here. 

'Cos I'm still writing, just more slowly than I'd like. And I'm not lagging, just having trouble deciding on what to write about, and what's worth writing about.

As is the case for growing Kaffir Lime leaves. No amount of rushing will do.