Sunday, October 11, 2015

Almost No Knead Sourdough Bread with Walnuts and Coconut Porter

This loaf was planned to accompany a pot of French onion soup for a Bread and Soup comfort food kind of meal, note the emphasis on the past tense. But the fresh sourdough boule, so warm and fragrant pulled straight from the oven, was totally irresistible. One little end slice cut off for a quick taste test turned into a series of "just one more bite" nibbles, and you can guess where that led. Oh yes, the intended bread and soup lunch turned into bread-with-butter snacks, then bread snacks with a dipping sauce of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and then RL tried a few bread slices with jam... and so it went, one slice after another. Forget the soup, we were full. No regrets; it was so delicious and onion soup will always taste better on the second day.

I had intended to follow the basic recipe for Sourdough No Knead Bread, until I found one lonely can of Coconut Porter hanging out in the back of the refrigerator. How long had it been there? Quick flashback to a can of Pumpkin Porter and and the 2014 pita bread recipe. "Hmmmm" I thought, "what would the Beeroness do with Coconut Porter?" 

Right, she would sip it and/or cook with it, with great enthusiasm. So I did both. It turns out that I appreciated Maui Brewing Company's can artwork more than I relished the taste of their beer. Coconut? what coconut? Coconut was a total stealth note, so well-hidden that I couldn't discern any coconut flavor at all, not even a hint. That's not a bad thing in a glass of beer, in my opinion, but I had hoped for something faintly tropical. Coconut flavor was also absent in the bread, but this sourdough walnut loaf was damned tasty comfort food without it. And that's a good thing!

Sourdough No Knead Coconut Porter Bread with Walnuts
adapted from several versions of the Lahey original (Cook's Illustrated, NYTimes, Seattle Times, etc.)

3 cups (15 oz) all-purpose flour, plus additional as needed
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup well-fed & proofed sourdough starter 
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (7 ounces) water at room temperature
1/2 cup (4 ounces) coconut porter (beer)
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and rough chopped

Whisk flour and salt in large non-reactive bowl. Add the starter, water and beer. Use a rubber spatula or dough scraper to fold the mixture, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl until shaggy ball forms. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature overnight, or for 12 to 18 hours.

Place a 12- to 18-inch sheet of parchment paper inside a 10-inch skillet and spray with cooking spray (PAM, etc.). Set aside.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface; add the walnuts and fold or knead until the nuts are evenly distributed. Shape into a ball by pulling edges into middle. Transfer the dough, seam-side down, to the parchment-lined skillet and lightly spray the surface of the dough with cooking spray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until the dough has doubled in size. (It will not readily spring back when poked with finger, about 2-3 hours in a warm kitchen.)
30 minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to the next-to-the-lowest position, place 4 to 6-quart heavy-bottomed Dutch oven with its lid on the rack, and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Lightly flour top of dough; use a sharp knife to make one or two 6-inch long, 1/2-inch deep slits along the top of dough. Carefully remove the heated pot and lid from oven. Pick up the dough by lifting the parchment paper overhang and place it into the pot (let any excess parchment hang outside the pot over edge). Cover the pot and place in the oven. 
Bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to bake until the loaf is deep brown in color and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 210 degrees F, about 20 to 30 minutes longer. Carefully remove the loaf from pot; transfer to a wire baking rack, remove the parchment and cool to room temperature before slicing.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Spicy Sweet Potato Fries

"So let the whole damn world go by
'Cause I just want to testify
From now on it's me and my
Sweet Potato Pie Fries" - with apologies to Ray Charles
Sweet potato fries are a recent addition to my favorite food list. Not too many years ago you wouldn't find sweet potato anything as my favorite, no way! Just mention sweet potatoes and my taste buds would recoil at the thought of another cloyingly sweet Thanksgiving casserole topped with brown sugar and mini marshmallows... but that's history. I have since learned to enjoy baked Hasselback sweet potatoes, nuked sweet potatoes mashed with a bit of butter, sweet potato wedges roasted with a hint of honey and cinnamon, and of course the ubiquitous restaurant-prepared sweet potato french fries. Sigh. if only I could replicate those crisp-on-the-outside fluffy-in-the-middle sweet potato batons, but baked in the oven and not deep fried. Baked seems so much healthier than fried, but the secret to a crisp exterior remains elusive. 

A Food52 recipe offered a promising start with a recipe that won Community Pick status. A spicy Southwest seasoning mix hit all of the right flavor notes, but the fries refused to crisp up enough to suit us me. We cheerfully ate almost the entire batch anyway. A remaining handful of baked fries were a tasty addition to the next morning's breakfast hash.

Hilary's new spiralizer was no match for two largish, unpeeled sweet potatoes so she cut most of the sticks by hand. The few shreds that came off the spiralizer hit a hot, lightly oiled skillet and proceeded to wilt more than crisp and taste too strongly of peel rather than tater. Forget the pan-fried approach for skinny shreds!  

The hand-cut, oven-baked method produced such tasty fries that we voted to give it another kitchen test... soon. Perhaps more time in the oven will do the trick; we'll be more patient in the future. I just can't get enough of those spicy sweet potato fries.

Spicy Sweet Potato Fries with Chili Cilantro Sour Cream Sauce
recipe closely adapted from the Food52 cookbook
serves 3-4

2 large sweet potatoes, unpeeled, cut in large sticks
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoky chipotle chile powder
1 teaspoon smoky paprika
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne, more or less to taste
Chili-Cilantro Sour Cream Sauce (recipe below)


  1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. Use your hands and toss the sweet potato sticks and olive oil in a large bowl.
  3. Add the salt, cumin, chile powder, paprika, pepper and cayenne to a small bowl and stir to mix.
  4. Add the spices to the potatoes and toss to coat thoroughly.
  5. Arrange the potatoes in one layer on a baking sheet.
  6. Bake in preheated oven on the lowest rack until the undersides are browned, about 15 minutes. Flip potatoes with a large spatula and bake an additional 10 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven and serve on a warmed platter. Offer Chili-Cilantro Sour Cream as an optional topping.

Chili-Cilantro Sour Cream Sauce
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon  lime juice
lime zest (optional)
2 teaspoons sweet Thai chili sauce
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 heaping tablespoon chopped cilantro

Combine all the ingredients except the cilantro in a medium bowl and whisk together. Stir in cilantro. Chill until ready to serve.

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