I knew bread-baking had reached pandemic proportions when I had to beg on Facebook for three measly packets of yeast, and drive from Copley to Uniontown to buy flour.
Social media has become a portrait gallery of burnished loaves — challah, Easter egg braids, ciabatta and crackly-crust no-knead boules. Many who post are first-time bread bakers, rightfully proud of their work.
No-knead bread, the most popular, is the one I make most often. It is a no-brainer: Mix flour, salt and a smidgen of yeast with water, let sit overnight, then bake in a lidded casserole the next day. The resulting loaf looks and tastes professional. Here’s the seminal recipe: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/11376-no-knead-bread.
After making four loaves in two weeks, I got tired of no-knead and branched out. I made an excellent sandwich bread (https://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/classic-sandwich-bread-recipe) and last week, khachapuri, an egg and cheese bread I’ve wanted to make for years. The latter, from the Republic of Georgia, is shaped like a canoe and filled with cheese. Just before it is removed from the oven, one perfect egg is broken into the center. Diners tear chunks of hot the bread and dip it into the soft-set egg.
Unless you are making no-knead, don’t be a slave to a bread recipe. You will almost without exception need more or less liquid than the recipe suggests, and the rise time can vary by hours. The khachapuri recipe called for a one- to two-hour rise, but mine took 5 hours to double in bulk in my turned-off oven. That’s because the day — and my kitchen — were cool, and the yeast was a bit old. Be patient.
The amount of liquid you need to turn flour and yeast into dough varies because humidity and temperature affect the volume of flour. One cup of flour today probably won’t equal one cup tomorrow. You will eventually be able to gauge by feel. Most just-made bread doughs should be just very slightly sticky.
Newbie tips: Use a dry measuring cup for the flour, not the transparent wet measuring cup with the gradients printed on the side. Scoop the flour from the bag and sweep it off even with the rim of the measuring cup using the flat blade of a knife.
Don’t worry if your yeast is expired. Unless it is years old, it will probably work but may take longer to rise the dough. Yeast is tough but it can be killed if you mix it with a liquid that is hotter than about 110 degrees. Aim for lukewarm.
Knead the dough until it is springy. When you poke it with a finger, the dent should spring back within a few seconds. If you have ever produced flat, leaden bread, it’s probably because you didn’t knead the dough enough. The dough will feel alive when the gluten is properly activated.
The khachapuri recipe I used, by Mark Bittman, produces a gorgeously pliable dough that could also be used for pizza. It is easy to make, with just one rise. It’s my new favorite dough.
P.S.: If you are hoarding yeast, I could use some.
(Georgian cheese-egg bread)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus more as needed
1 tsp. instant yeast
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. olive oil, plus more for greasing
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tbsp. butter, cut into small cubes (optional but traditional)
Combine the flour, yeast, and salt in a food processor. Turn the machine on and add 1/2 cup water and the oil through the feed tube. Process for about 30 seconds, adding more water a little at a time until the mixture forms a ball and is slightly sticky to the touch. If it is still dry, add another tablespoon or 2 of water and process for another 10 seconds. In the unlikely event that the mixture is too sticky, add flour a tablespoon at a time.
Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead by hand to form a smooth, round dough ball. (Jane’s note: I kneaded the dough 40 times. It should feel like a baby’s bottom and bounce back when you poke it with a finger). Grease a bowl with oil, add the dough, and turn to coat; cover with plastic wrap and let rise until the dough doubles in size, 1 to 2 hours (or more). Meanwhile, mix the cheeses together in a bowl; season with black pepper.
When the dough is ready, heat the oven to 475 degrees, with a baking stone in it if you have one. (Jane: Although I have a baking stone, I used a large pizza pan for ease, and skipped the parchment and flour mentioned later in the recipe.)
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a circle about 1/8 inch thick. (Jane’s note: Do this quickly, with as few movements as possible to avoid activating the gluten, which will make it impossible to roll).
Sprinkle half of the cheese mixture over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge. Roll one side of the circle toward the center, then repeat with the opposite side so that there is a gap of about 4 inches in between the 2 rolls (see photo). Pinch the open ends of the rolls together on both sides and twist them together (the resulting shape should look something like a boat).
(Jane’s note: I divided the dough in half and made two smaller khachapuri, so Tony and I would each have an egg.)
Carefully transfer the boat to a lightly floured peel, floured baking sheet, plank of wood, or flexible cutting board or put it on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese mixture into the opening in the middle. Slide the boat onto the baking stone if you’re using one or put the baking sheet in the oven. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the crust is golden. Crack the egg into the middle of the boat and bake until the egg is partially set, 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how firm you want the egg. Remove the boat from the oven, put the cubes of butter in the middle if you’re using them, and serve as soon as you’re comfortable tearing into it with your fingers.
Recipe by Mark Bittman.
While I don’t celebrate Easter with food, I celebrate post-Easter. A day or two after the holiday, I hotfoot it to the Honeybaked (or Heavenly) Ham store for a deal on the ham bones left behind by customers who had ordered boneless ham.
The frozen bones are meaty. The ones I’ve bought over the years have been swathed in a pound or more of ham — enough for a few sandwiches and a pot of soup. And after a holiday like Easter or Christmas, when the stores are awash with ham bones, they are often two for the price of one, as they were last week when I toted home a pair for $9, froze one and with the other made ham and fava bean soup.
What I cooked last week:
Fried Spam and egg on toast; pickled eggs; khatchapuri (Georgian cheese and egg bread); pan-grilled top sirloin steak with Béarnaise sauce, roasted Brussels sprouts, blistered cherry tomatoes and wilted chard, and coconut meringues with roasted plums; mayonnaise; egg salad; ham and fava bean soup; cornbread; chicken tika masala.
What I ate from restaurants:
Beef, chicken and pork enchiladas, pinto beans and cinnamon-sugar sopapillas from Casa del Rio Express in Fairlawn; California roll and a crunchy shrimp roll from Sushi Katsu in Akron.
From Marlene H.:
Re: Comforting each other with food — We have a text/Zoom group with family across the U.S. and its territories. We’ve been sharing stories and the food we’ve been making, both with recipes and pictures. We’re compiling a list of the ones we’re going to make at the celebration party once we can all get together in person again. A lot of them are the old family recipes like lasagne, meatballs, cauliflower pie, cheesecake and the like that bring back those comforting memories.
For takeout, we got delicious cheeseburgers from Menches in Green. One with onion rings and one with tater tots. Love their tots as it brings back great childhood memories, although back then it was the Friday treat of fish sticks and Tater Tots. Haha!
Sharing food and stories via Zoom is a great idea for a weekly family gathering. My family tried to get together via Zoom for my brother’s birthday earlier this month, but I couldn’t figure it out and my sister’s computer was too old to accommodate the app. I am sure my niece in Columbus was rolling her eyes at the old folks. I am enjoying the photos she posts to Facebook of my great-niece’s kitchen creations. Kyleigh cooks and bakes way beyond her 17 years, I’m proud to say.
From Maryann A.:
After reading the letter from Carol, a self-proclaimed non-foodie, I started thinking about how my husband and I are handling our meal adventures.
Although we normally ate out about three or four times a week, our cupboards and big freezer were always comfortably stocked, taking advantage of sales and seasonal items. When stay-at-home was implemented, we didn’t rush out and panic buy. We knew we were OK except for milk, bread, o.j. and fresh fruit.
As the days turned into weeks, we had fun being creative with whatever was being uncovered as we foraged. It was interesting to reach into the nether regions of the various shelves, discovering forgotten purchases, and often finding items way out of date. We now have an inventory and are creating menus from our stash. It has been an interesting experience. We have also been ordering take-out locally a few times a week.
Coincidentally, our checkbook is in great shape since takeout (including a generous tip) is usually half the cost of a meal out, without the drinks and hard-to-resist desserts!
As for supporting our local restaurants, I previously told you about The Tavern in Stow being open, and then, regretfully, closing. Happy to report they are back open again! We got a great dinner from them last night. In addition to providing school lunches for kids when the schools closed, they also made up food trays on Easter for whoever was in need.
We’re not going to start gung-ho grilling like you and Tony, but will continue to explore forgotten treasure in our kitchen.
Dear Maryann A.:
I have not shopped for groceries, except for brief forays to the egg farm and ham store, in a month. I, too, have been exploring the nether regions of my freezer and pantry. This week I made soup from year-old dried fava beans that I probably would never have used barring a pandemic. Last night, with no vegetables left except onions, I made a Szechuan stir fry from frozen ground venison and Chinese rice noodles. Like you, I enjoy the challenge. But enough’s enough. This week I shop.
From Kathy G.:
I am a native Akronite and for one of the charitable organizations I support
I have upped the amount and frequency of my donations to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. I read that monetary donations are the most beneficial for the most people as the food bank gets and gives out what they need. I am also pretty sure that all of the money is going directly to buy food or directly support their program for those who need it now more than ever in our history. I know this need is happening nationally and globally too but if everyone who is able to help the food banks locally, at least it is a start. Everyone needs to eat and there are a lot of people to feed in our neighborhoods.
From Jennie K.:
Like you, I’ve been preparing just about every meal at home – liking it most of the time. We order groceries for pickup from three or four different sources; we sanitize the groceries and then rinse-wash them before bringing them into the house. (Being a senior with two chronic lung conditions, I can’t afford to go out much at all.)
We’ve ordered prepared food about once a week from a few local restaurants to try to support their businesses. Since I love to bake, I bake big batches of cookies, cupcakes, and other treats to take to several neighbors every few weeks. I call the neighbors ahead of time, and my husband delivers them by ringing their doorbells and leaving the double-bagged goodies on their doorsteps. I enjoy this as much as preparing our own meals.
My husband had a great idea for helping the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank. Since we both are retired and financially secure, he suggested we donate our government stimulus money to the food bank. We know that the money is now helping many more people than just the two of us.
Dear Kathy and Jennie:
The Foodbank needs all the help it can get at this time. I am sure your generosity is much appreciated.
From Ron C.:
Some Wadsworth residents have constructed several “food pantries” around town, boxes on posts, where people can get what they need, leave what they have. Great idea, and a good place to leave some of those extra canned goods you might have.
The “movement” is spreading. I hear there is one in Norton, and one each in Seville and Chippewa Lake for pets.
I love this idea so much. Thank you for sharing.
From Janet M.:
To help busy, working neighbor/friends (a police officer and nurse), my husband buys for four from Vaccaro’s in Bath and gives half to these people. We like the idea of supporting favorite restaurants. We’ve done the same with Edgar’s and D’Agnese’s restaurants — a win-win situation, for our neighbors and the restaurants.
Wow. That is a fantastic double-helping idea. You are so generous to share.
From Eileen G.:
I, too, can’t wait for the perfect spring days to get outside and get the grill fired up. I wanted to tell you how I am surviving the quarantine. My children don’t want me going out to grocery stores so I write a list and take a picture of it and send it to my adult sons. They shop and deliver to my door. How wonderful is that? And then I make the recipes from their childhood and they pick it up and share with their children (my grandchildren). This is such a crazy time but we must stay in place and be safe.
We did pick up a dinner from Olesia’s restaurant in the old Tavern of Richfield — they opened their new restaurant the day the quarantine went into effect. They do Old World cooking that we love. The have curb-side dinner pick up. I love their food.
What a clever full-circle way to shop, share and stay safe.
From Chris M.:
So far I have received from caring neighbors a loaf of homemade cinnamon raisin bread, matzo ball soup, lemon meringue pie, pumpkin chocolate chip bread, chicken parm and pasta Alfredo, Russian tea biscuits and Belgian chocolates — and I know there’s more that I can’t recall right now. In return I have delivered beef barley soup, banana bread, lemon yogurt cake, flowers and Easter candy. I’m about to make cowboy cookies to share. I’m trying to address the waistline problem and am having little success; somehow raw veggies don’t convey the same message of love and concern!
OK, you answered the question of “Where’s my pie?”. I think I had better get busy gifting food if I want to get food — although I have given a bit of food to friends and I have gotten some chocolate, a loaf of banana bread, blueberry bread and part of an Easter lamb cake in return. Not too shabby, although nothing like your bonanza.