Sunday, January 2, 2011

News Year's Eve

For New Year's Eve, my husband Ross and I welcomed two very special guests into our home! Hayley, one of my very best friends and one of my bridesmaids at our wedding, and Justin, Ross' best friend and one of his groomsmen. They're dating now; it's great.

Hayley and Justin

I have been itching for an opportunity to use our fondue set - a wedding gift that we haven't been able to use yet! So I looked up a recipe for a smoked cheese fondue in my How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. It's a wonderful cookbook with illustrations, details and background information on foods in addition to recipes - highly recommended, a wonderful gift from my grandmother!

Almost more important than the fondue, however, is what to dip into it?! Things that go well with cheese - potatoes, broccoli, and BREAD!

When considering a complimentary bread for cheese fondue, I decided to try out Baguettes as a pre- New Years Resolution bread. I used the recipe from Lavish Simplicity - a cookbook produced by the community of Holden Village.

1 1/2 cups warm water 
1 Tbs yeast 
1 tsp sugar 
1 tsp salt
3 1/2 cups unbleached white flour (I did 1 cup whole wheat and 2 1/2 cups white) 
1 Tbs rye flour 
1 Tbs vital wheat gluten flour (optional if you use only white flour) 

First, the night before or early in the morning, dissolve the yeast in the warm water with the sugar. The water should be warm coming out of the tap, and I've noticed that it's easier to test it with your wrist rather than your fingers. The temperature should be around 100 degrees F, hot water will kill the yeast. 

Give the yeast a minute to dissolve, then use your fingers to gently stir the yeast and sugar together. 
Then add one cup of flour, and mix until it is the consistency of pancake batter. Cover this "sponge" and let it sit in a warm place overnight, or for at a least a few hours. 
After a few hours, you can see that the sponge has risen. Because it's so cold in our kitchen in the winter - I set my bowls on the stove top and turn the oven on very low - under 200 F. 
Then add the salt and rye flour to the sponge, followed by the remaining 2 1/2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup at a time. You will only be able to mix with the wooden spoon for so long, after which you can start kneading with your hands for about 10 minutes. (Considerably less if your are using a mixer with a dough hook, and be wary of food processors - the dough can become too heated.)

Kneading the dough is my favorite part - the point of kneading is to evenly mix all the ingredients There is no one perfect technique - just work with dough with a lot of energy for 10 minutes - stretching, squashing, folding, squeezing, etc... you can even knead it in the air! 

This 10 minutes of air kneading, for me, is therapeutic. It's spiritual. It's a time when I am working with my hands, and the phone, computer, and distractions are out of reach. It's just me, the dough, my thought and prayers. 

At the end the dough should look and feel even and smooth, still slightly sticky. If it's so sticky that you can't manage to get it into a ball or off your hands you probably need more flour. If it becomes too tough and unmanageable, you might need to add a bit more water. That's the thing about bread dough - there are no exact measurements! The temperature, weather, humidity, and mood will all affect the dough. Be at peace with the dough.  

Place the dough in a ball in a clean bowl covered with a damp towel, and leave it to rise for about an hour, or until it doubles in size.  (I forgot to take a pre-punch picture! But you can see how it has risen.) Then punch the dough and place it on a lightly floured counter.

Quickly cut the dough and form it into three balls, cover with a towel and let them rest for about 10 minutes.

Now you are ready to form the loaves! First, smack down the balls onto the counter, then very quickly roll the dough ball up into itself using and seal the dough using the heels of your hands. With both hands, roll the dough into long, beautiful baguettes.
Place the loaves on a baking sheet (lightly greased and sprinkled with a little cornmeal to keep of loaf off the oil) or you can use a baking/pizza stone - in which case just let the baguettes rest and rise on the counter for about 15 more minutes covered by a towel.  

 After this final rise, use a very sharp knife to slash the top of the baguettes, for this length 4 or 5. Place the loaves in the oven - very hot - at least 450 to 500 degrees depending on your oven. Put a cup of boiling water in an oven safe dish - old pie tin or casserole dish - and place that on the rack beneath the baguettes. The bread will be done in 15-20 minutes. 

Finished product! Aren't they beautiful! 

So we let them cool and moved on to the fondue! It's so much fun having a friend to cook with! 

So we sliced and cubed the bread and chopped and roasted the veggies! We added zucchini and carrots to the mix. 
The smoked cheese and stout beer fondue was delicious - especially with the bread!


This was a wonderful evening to celebrate with close friends, and we were able to enjoy the time it takes to cook a meal, together, and to eat together at the table savoring every bite. 

Happy New Year!