Meatball Sub on a Sourdough Italian Roll

I been Ayn Randed, nearly branded
A Communist ’cause I’m left-handed
That’s the hand I use, well, never mind
– Paul Simon, “A Simple Desultory Philippic”

When I was sixteen I got my first part-time job, as a sales clerk at Fabric Corner in Arlington, Massachusetts. I measured and cut fabric, advised customers on the relative merits of the invisible zipper, and separated items into non-taxable and taxable before ringing them up.

It wasn’t a bad job for a sixteen-year-old who liked to sew, measure, and categorize things, but the job wasn’t the best part of the job. The best part was having both the means and the excuse to eat out by myself. Before every shift, I would stop in at the small pizza joint next door to the store and eat dinner.

We had a ritual: I would ask for a meatball sub. They would ask me if I wanted cheese and peppers. I always said yes to the cheese, and usually to the peppers. I wonder why I couldn’t have just said, “Meatball sub with cheese and peppers” right up front. I guess when you’re sixteen you don’t volunteer any more information than you absolutely have to, until you absolutely have to.

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Spelt-Carrot Bread

These golden orange loaves are an adaptation of a recipe found on straightgrade.com, a wonderful resource geared towards professional bread bakers but with much great information for anyone who loves to bake. There, Tod Bramble highlights bakers and bakeries around the US and occasionally shares one of their formulas. This Spelt-Carrot bread is originally from B & R Artisan Breads in Framingham, Massachusetts. Thanks to Jeremy for calling my attention to this unique and delicious bread!

The dough is a dream to work with, light and supple and fragrant. I almost didn’t want to bake it, I just wanted to keep my hands and my nose in the dough forever.

I suggest is letting the bread sit for about four hours after baking to let the flavors mellow. I found that when I tasted it just as it was cool (at about two hours), it had a slight bitter taste to it. After another couple of hours, however, that was gone and the bread tasted sweet and nutty and golden.

It made a lovely sandwich too.

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Fig and Fennel Bread with Rye Sourdough

Try a thing you haven’t tried before three times – once to get over the fear, once to find out how to do it, and a third time to find out whether you like it or not.Virgil Thomson

I’m going to take a few liberties with Mr. Thomson’s quote to fit my experience with this fig and fennel bread. I was never afraid of it, I knew I liked it on the first pass, and it took me until the third time to figure out how to do it. So mine would go something like this:

Try a bread you haven’t baked before three times – once to overhydrate it, once to overproof it, and a third time to find out whether you really can bake at all or if you should just hang up your apron right now and go skydiving three times.

I’m happy to report I didn’t have to resort to skydiving.

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Cracked Rye – Polenta Sourdough

cracked rye-polenta sourdough

Have I mentioned lately how much I love my sourdough starter? This baby is a trooper. Raising breads day in and day out, especially loaves with a goodly proportion of whole grains, is not easy, but it’s up to the task pretty much every time.

When our children were small we used to tell them, “You’re better than a pet.” Sometimes I want to tell my starter, “You’re better than a kid.”

OK, not really, but when my starter graces me with bread like this, and doesn’t talk back in the bargain, you know, sometimes it’s kind of a toss-up.

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Grissini Revisited

As far as I’m concerned, there is no more perfect party food than grissini. A bouquet of these thin bread sticks looks beautiful and never fails to draw a crowd. They’re crunchy and savory and can be picked up and eaten with one hand.

But let’s face it, if you have to roll several dozen of these things individually you may be arriving a little late to your own party. It’s not that I don’t love hands-on time with my dough, but sometimes just a little more efficiency is in order.

In her book The Italian Baker, Carol Field describes how Italian bakers do it, by simply stretching the elastic dough with the hands. For me, this was not only faster but produced wonderfully rustic, knobby-ended grissini. (Do you know me? I am nothing if not a fan of rusticity!)

I love my grissini thin thin thin. If you prefer something a little plumper, roll the dough into a 6 x 4-inch (rather than 12 x 4) rectangle, and cut it into only 8 pieces rather than 16.

This sourdough recipe is very flavorful (and makes nice pizza as well), but yeasted grissini are great too!

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Pain de Beaucaire

Pain de Beaucaire is one of those breads that is like true magic to me. It really seems impossible that a stiff dough could yield a bread whose crumb is as light and open as this centuries-old bread from Beaucaire, in the south of France.

The secret lies in the bread’s unique shaping method. The dough is formed into two layers, with a layer of wet flour slurry sandwiched between them. When the sandwich is stood on its side to bake, the loaf opens along the “filling” to create its beautiful characteristic fissure, similar to a fendu loaf, and the steam created by the slurry helps lighten the crumb.

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