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Best Bread ...
June 13, 2005 07:30 PM
Best Breads by Jane Lane Energy Times, December 9, 1999
Few of us can resist the seductions of freshly baked bread, warm and fragrant, poised on the edge of a steaming bowl of soup or painted with an aromatic swath of rosemary scented oil. Even those of us from the most culinary challenged households can recall the pleasures of the simple plump white dinner roll or flaky biscuit piled in a basket on the dinner table.
Bread has blossomed from sideshow status beside the dinner plate to a full-scale mealtime headliner, a scrumptious star enriched by nutritious grains, herbs, fruits and vegetables.
Contemporary cooks build meals around crunchy cornbread or chewy focaccia, presenting soups or salads as satisfying counterpoints. Want to jump into the bread baking basket or hone your skills? Two top vegetarian chefs shared with Energy Times their passion for bread and their expertise in baking. See if you don't find that ardor contagious.
Nancy Lazarus is a chef at the famed Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York, established in 1973 to serve up natural fare with a homecooked, vegetarian emphasis. The bill of fare changes daily at Moosewood, but there's one constant: a cup or bowl of soup, a salad and a thick slice of bread. Some loyal customers have ordered the daily special for 20 years.
That's why bread occupies a cherished spot at Moosewood. Nancy Lazarus tells why and offers some of Moosewood's favorite bread recipes: "Cooking is like art; baking is like science; bread is like magic. No matter how much science you apply, you'll never have complete control: It'll do its own thing on some level, which is part of its charm, if you're charmed by that sort of thing. Breads come out differently depending on heat and humidity, the heat of the oven; yeast is a variable that can be slower or faster acting.
"There are bread machines, of course, and they work. But they're not as satisfying as the real thing, the kneading, which can be almost therapeutic, and the control over the ingredients to your own specifications.
"Bread is not that difficult. Know your own oven, to begin: Good insulation is important and how the heat travels around inside. Convection ovens are a wonderful thing.
"There are difficult breads we recommend you buy at a good bakery: baguettes, Italian, French and Cuban that are crusty outside and soft inside.
"But focaccia is easy. It's a yeasted bread that's better to make at home than buy because it's so fresh and you can control the toppings. It only requires one slow and one quick rising but you have to be there for a while.
"Then there are quick breads that use baking soda or powder, like cornbread. If you want a good meal at home and can make only one thing, make a quick bread. They're satisfying and delicious warm from the oven; and the aroma of bread fills the house. A corn bread with tomato soup for supper is a nurturing meal good for vegans.
"Popovers are fast and simple, a middle American 50s treat, but you do need a hot oven and 45 minutes. Also easy to make: sweet breads- carrot, banana, zucchini-and biscuits.
"To reduce the fat in denser quickbreads and cakes, use applesauce. It gives body and moistness.
"The number of wheat-sensitive people is rising dramatically. A theory I think makes sense is that in the last 30 years the varieties of wheat grown has been reduced to 1 or 2 that are more easily cultivated and harvested with the machinery available. People are overloaded with one type of wheat.
"Gluten is the offending substance in wheat and some oats; try rice, tapioca and potato flours, which are denser and more fine and don't produce a good crust. Improve the crust by baking in a preheated cast iron skillet.
"Also investigate chickpea flour. You don't make a loaf of bread with it- use it for flatbreads like papadam, which is in Indian cookbooks. And it's good for batter for vegetables.
"Spelt is the closest to wheat flour in consistency but some people can be sensitive to it.
"Visit a natural food store to check out the flours. The mills sometimes print handouts with recipes and a lot of those are real good, especially for what works with their flour. Or you may run into a baker who will whet your appetite with ideas and recipes.
"Bread is the supreme comfort food. It can speak to us, and reassure us. The magic of bread and how it varies: There's something appealing in that. In today's world, food is predictable, and that's reassuring to some people. At Moosewood, things are always different, and that's good."
Claire Criscuolo puts an intensely personal spin on the eclectically ethnic style of cooking at her esteemed vegetarian restaurant, Claire's Corner Copia. That 25-year-old institution in New Haven, Connecticut, reflects her zest for the freshest ingredients, robust flavors and inspired combinations. Claire, a teacher and advocate for healthful cuisine, pours her passion into her breadmaking as well:
"Healthy bread is like anything else-it has healthy ingredients. We use the best organic Unbleached flour and yeast, pure vanilla, whole eggs (not dried and powdered), whole milk and organic sour cream. You want to use good, fresh ingredients. It's the essence of healthy cooking. "I tell my staff, 'Don't use your soup pot as a garbage pail. Bread is the same. If the ingredients aren't at their freshest for serving, then they aren't right for other uses in the kitchen.
"Our bread is very important at Claire's. We make a country white and a honey wheat in a pinwheel loaf-400 a day-and challah for the morning French toast with sauteed bananas or as buns for veggie burgers. "It's not practical to bake bread every day. We let our bread rise several times, punching it down again and again. For the home cook, it's time consuming. Even I'm happy to buy a good loaf of bread. "But anybody can bake bread. Combine flour, water and yeast and watch it grow! It's delights all your senses. And it a gratifies and satisfies. I was kneading it all by hand until we got up to 12 loaves a day.
"I love a good oatmeal molasses bread; a whole wheat bread with walnuts, rosemary and finely chopped sweet onion sauteed in olive oil for a roasted vegetable sandwich; or an anadama bread with split pea soup.
"Bread is part of a meal. It requires time and effort, but I can't think of many things worthwhile that don't."