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Grissini Stirati - Stretched Breadsticks

Monday, April 25, 2011
Stretched Breadsticks

My momma always said, "Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get".
(T. Hanks, Forrest Gump)

Let me add, life is also like a stretched breadstick, crunchy and soft, you never know what's in for you at the next bite.
Forget the chocolate; today breadsticks - whether stretched or chubby - are, for me, the real ode to life, my New Age metaphor, the smell and memory of everything that's good in the world.
That's all I have to say about that.

Stretched Breadsticks
for 30 breadsticks approx. 16" long

type O flour 500 gr
lukewarm water 250-280 gr
fresh yeast 15 gr
salt 8 gr (one full teaspoon)
olive oil 50 gr
barley malt 1 scant teaspoon
semolina flour, olive oil for brushing as needed

The peculiarity of these breadsticks, pulled strictly by hand, is that they're very irregular: the thinnest pieces cook quickly and become crunchy, while the thicker parts stay rather soft. Every bite is a surprise.
The recipe, which I'm copying literally, is not my own work, but it comes again from the Simili sisters' book, which one can never exploit enough.
May the bread be with me until yeast last.

Make a well in the middle, mix all ingredients and knead for 8-10 minutes. Dough should not be too soft.
Shape it into a loaf and make a rectangle about 4x12 inches out of it; keeping the shape as regular as possible, place it on a layer of semolina flour and coat the surface and the sides thoroughly with olive oil, and then sprinkle with more semolina.
Cover with a bowl and let it rise for 50-60 minutes. With a chef's knife or a large spatula, cut from the short side pieces of dough about 3/4" thick; without shaking it too much, grab each piece in the middle with your fingers, and stretch it out by pulling gently and moving your fingers towards the edges as the piece gets thinner.
Place the breadsticks on a baking sheet a little apart and adjust their thickness with the fingers to even it out. If you've used too much dough and the breadstick is too long, cut out the edge part, and bake the piece as it is because it can't be kneaded twice. Place immediately in the oven and bake at 390 for 18-20 minutes.

Stretced Breadsticks

Hello. My name's Forrest, Forrest Gump. You want a chocolate grissino?

Soft Focaccia From Bari

Thursday, April 21, 2011
Soft Focaccia From Bari

"Focaccia in Bari is prepared by mixing wheat flour, salt, yeast and water. The result is a fairly liquid batter that is poured into a round baking pan, seasoned with olive oil, fresh tomatoes, and olives, and then baked in the oven. And because the mixture is liquid, pieces of tomato and olives sink into the dough, creating and filling small, soft holes, which become the best part of the focaccia. It is eaten warm but not hot, wrapped in a piece of paper, coming out of school, at the beach, for dinner or lunch (or as a snack or even at breakfast, but this is stuff for experts): fast, cheap and deliciously greasy.
Focaccia is one of the best things in the world. I refrain from saying that it is the best thing, to keep a minimum of perspective and to avoid the parochial ravings. There are the thin and crunchy ones, the tall and soft, those with the addition of potatoes or rosemary and many other variations. But the real focaccia is the one with tomatoes, olives, charred edges and nothing else. It should be paired, if possible, with a nice bottle of very cold beer. If you really want to enter the realm of high cuisine, the supreme pleasure is warm focaccia stuffed with thin slices of mortadella. Mortadella, when sliced thinly, coming into contact with the warm and fragrant crumb, releases a scent that makes the salivary glands go crazy.
Unlike many good things, which are often scarce and expensive, focaccia, in Bari, is found wherever there is a bakery. Which is everywhere, and everybody can buy it.
Focaccia, in Bari, is a metaphor for equality and one of the few symbols (among them, worthy of note are raw mussels) in which people from Bari recognize their collective identity.
A few hours earlier, Paolo had said that what he missed the most was the smell of focaccia".

(G. Carofiglio, Neither here nor anywhere else, one night in Bari)

Soft Focaccia from Bari
for two round pan of 10" in diameter*

The Starter
type O flour 80 gr
lukewarm water 60 gr
fresh yeast 1 g (a small piece)

The Dough
semolina (durum wheat) flour 1 kg
lukewarm water 800 gr
olive oil 30 gr
fresh yeast 15 gr
salt 20 gr, 4 tablespoons
cherry tomatoes, cut in half 1 kg
black olives, weighted with the pit 400 gr
olive oil for the pans, salt, oregano as needed

Getting hooked on focaccia's recipes - and the one from Bari in particular - is taking a dead end street. Tall, thin, wheat flour, semolina flour, with olives, without olives, with potatoes, without potatoes. Variations are endless; a quick googling is enough to understand that you wouldn't get out of it alive. Especially if you've never been in Bari, if the sea for you has always been only an interlude, and - even worse - if few years ago you moved to the other side of the world, where the Mediterranean and its aromas have become a metaphor of undefined contours.
For this reason, I've decided to rely upon an original recipe signed by the Simili sisters, which - besides being of secure outcome - also frees me of any liability. And there I rewrite it below, exactly as it is recited in the Bible in their book. Roll up your sleeves and knuckle down, because this focaccia, whether or not from Bari, really kicks ass!

The starter:
Mix the ingredients in a bowl, cover and let rise for 18-24 hours.
The dough:
In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast and the starter with half the water, and mix well; add a little flour, salt, and then begin to beat. Combine the remaining ingredients, alternating flour and water and continue beating vigorously until the mixture "boils" (that is, until you see large bubbles forming, that will break immediately) and the texture of the semolina flour is dissolved (about 10-15 minutes). The dough should be very soft. Cover the bowl and let it rise for 30 minutes.
Pour some oil in each of two baking pans, put your hands in covering them completely; grasp half of the dough and roll it while suspended, keeping it in one hand while the other collects the dough that's falling from the side, inserting it underneath in the middle, and transferring everything from one hand to another.
Don't worry if at first the gluten is relaxed and the dough comes down very quickly; after two or three manipulations the gluten wakes up allowing you to work more comfortably for two to three manipulations. Place this ball in the greased pan and repeat with the second half of the dough. Let it rise for about two hours, then cover the surface completely with tomatoes and pitted olives, taking care not to press down, otherwise you lose the rising gas and the focaccia will be less soft. To avoid this unfortunate circumstance, pinch a little dough by lifting it up, then put a piece of tomato or olive underneath. Sprinkle with salt [and oregano, I'd like to add ], drizzle with oil and bake at 450 for 25-30 minutes.
Remove from the pan few minutes after it's baked and place it on a baker's rack.

*I halved the quantity, obtaining one round pan only. I prepared the starter with the quantities described above, but then I used only half of it for the final dough, which I've made with half the quantities transcribed here.

Photo (Sun)Day: Eggs

Sunday, April 17, 2011

But what about the chocolate ones?

The Non-Linzer

Tuesday, April 12, 2011
The Non-Linzer

Excuse me, may I? With your permission, I'm here today to pass on the recipe for a cake that in my house has always been touted for Linzer, but to be honest is not a Linzer. Why, why... well, yes, why?
Because it's not a tart, here, I say it. To my discredit, I admit that this is kind of a short-cut that has little or nothing to do with pastry crust; it's rather a Linzertorte cake, softer than the classic and certainly very little flaky. In addition, if we want to tell the whole story, it's also one that is not offended if you use hazelnuts instead of almonds, it doesn't get cranky if instead of mirtilli rossi* jam (certainly not a genre that's in great demand here in San Francisco and surrounding areas) you use a raspberry one (in this case, I even used a raspberry & plum jam), and it doesn't take it personally if - given the dough's consistency - it's practically impossible to give it stripes that are all perfect and regular.
Subtleties? Semantic sophistry? Culinary quibbles? I don't know. The thing is, despite the obvious shortcomings, it'd really like to be allowed to qualify as Linzer for its taste, of Linzer. Is this something contemplated and permitted?
Waiting for a verdict, and always with your permission, I'd still like to offer it to you, this Linzerwannabe.

Non-Linzer Torte
for a round cake pan of 9" diameter

butter, room temperature 105 gr
neutral flavored oil 105 gr.
eggs 3
sugar 210 gr.
flour 210 gr.
hazelnuts 210 gr.
baking powder about 7 gr. (1/2 package)
salt one pinch
plenty of cinnamon
raspberry, currant or mirtilli rossi* jam as needed

Toast hazelnuts in the oven for about ten minutes, let them cool and then grind them finely in a food processor, adding a few tablespoons of sugar taken from the total amount, to avoid them releasing oil.
Beat butter and oil with remaining sugar until the mixture is creamy; add eggs, one at a time, salt and plenty of cinnamon. In the end, add sifted flour, baking powder and ground hazelnuts. Mix well.
Pour the dough in a greased and floured cake pan, keeping aside about half a cup to use for the covering. Gently spread the jam on top, leaving a border of about 1 inch. With a pastry bag, create the classic pie strips using the leftover dough, leaving some space between each one, as they get a lot wider while baking.
Bake the cake at 350 for about 50 minutes, until the usual toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let it cool down, and if you wish, sprinkle it with powdered sugar before serving.

*Mirtilli rossi are a type of wild berries, red and very tart, popular in Northern Europe. You can't find them here, but they are very close to cranberries.