A Bread Baking Adventure

By Sydney Manning

Like Oprah, I love bread. I would eat it all day, every day if the end result wouldn’t be me documented on an episode of My 600-lb Life. Bread and I have a somewhat complicated relationship. As much as I love it, I have never been able to bake it without a hitch. Sometimes it’s over-proofed. Sometimes it’s under-proofed. And sometimes it’s shoved into a screaming-hot oven at 3:00 a.m. because I’ve had enough, and also can’t believe that I’ve been bested once again by a giant blob of dough that I’ve tried (and failed) to style into an intricate design. But I always keep trying. For New Year’s this year, I stayed in, struggling through a chocolate challah recipe that I got out of an old issue of Bon Appetit. Since I was totally snowed in this weekend, I decided to make not one, not two, but three loaves of bread because I like to push myself, and (apparently) I like getting no sleep.

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Have you heard about Uri Scheft’s cookbook, Breaking Breads? It came out in October and I absolutely love it. It’s incredibly detailed, beautifully photographed, and packed with tons of recipes for breads and for dishes like Algerian salad and Babaghanouj. I decided to try Uri’s version of challah to see how it would compare to other challah loaves I’ve made in the past. I started out by whisking two packets of active dry yeast into 1 2/3 cups of cool, room-temperature water in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached. Next, I added seven cups of unbleached all-purpose flour, a tablespoon of fine salt, and five tablespoons of canola oil. I set the mixer to medium speed for one minute, scraping down the sides or pushing the dough down when it occasionally climbed up the hook. After about three minutes, I turned the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pushed and tore it, folding it onto itself, then giving it a quick quarter turn before repeating the motion. I did this for two minutes, then rolled the dough around and around until it had become a smooth ball that was easily the size of a human head. I put the dough ball into a large, floured bowl, covered it in cling film, and set it aside in a warm place to rise for what I prayed would be 40 minutes, but knew in my heart of hearts would be longer.

Sure enough, nearly two hours (and two episodes of Chopped) later, I came into the kitchen to find that my dough had risen so much that it was very close to spilling out of the top. Had I left it to proof for too long? Probably, but there was no turning back. Carefully, I peeled it out of the bowl, making sure not to release any of the vital gasses that I had spent two hours of my life waiting to puff up the dough. I flattened the ball into a rectangle using my palms, then using a sharp bench knife, cut the dough into three pieces. I cut those three pieces into three more pieces each, totaling nine equal-ish sized pieces (perhaps it would’ve been wise to use my ruler, but who had time to find one?). I took a piece, flattened it into a rectangle, then folded the top towards me, and flattened it again. I did this three more times until I ended up with a cylinder. I repeated the process with the remaining eight pieces. Once I had nine cylinders, I rolled each into 14-inch (give or take) ropes, pinched at the ends. My ropes may have been all different lengths, but they were ropes nonetheless and I was soldiering on; the time had come for me to start braiding. I braided the first two loaves in the traditional way and placed them on parchment-lined baking sheets.  As I got to the third, I decided to mix things up a bit. Once I had braided the third loaf and pinched the ends, as I had done with the first two, I curved the top end of the loaf around to meet the bottom, creating a beautiful braided circle. In the

Once I had nine cylinders, I rolled each into 14-inch (give or take) ropes, pinched at the ends. My ropes may have been all different lengths, but they were ropes nonetheless and I was soldiering on; the time had come for me to start braiding. I braided the first two loaves in the traditional way and placed them on parchment-lined baking sheets.  As I got to the third, I decided to mix things up a bit. Once I had braided the third loaf and pinched the ends, as I had done with the first two, I curved the top end of the loaf around to meet the bottom, creating a beautiful braided circle. In the middle I placed an oval ramekin so that the loaf would maintain its shape while baking. The ramekin would also make a great holder for the dipping honey later on. Next I put one large egg, a tablespoon of water, and a pinch of fine salt into a bowl and began whisking. This was my egg wash. Very lightly, I painted the wash onto the loaf, making sure that every inch had a sheen. On one half of the loaf I sprinkled a generous amount of poppy seeds, spreading them out with my finger when I noticed clumps. On the other half, I sprinkled white sesame seeds. I placed clean kitchen towels over the two traditional loaves, then left all three to rise for 60 minutes.

When my loaves had sufficiently risen (or I just grew impatient, I can’t be sure), I placed racks on the top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheated it to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. I brushed the remaining loaves with the egg wash, and baked each loaf for 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back at the 15-minute mark. Finally, nearly seven long hours later, I had three unevenly-sized but no less beautiful (to me) loaves of challah cooling on the counter. As warm and wonderful-smelling as each loaf was, I have a very strict “no eating after midnight” policy, and it was well past that cut-off. It wasn’t until the next afternoon that I was finally able to taste the breads. The loaves sat uncovered overnight, so the first order of business was to wrap my two traditional loaves in two layers of cling film, then a layer of aluminum foil for good measure. They were on their way to the freezer for safe-keeping. It was the circle loaf that I was after.

Bread is best eaten slightly warm, so I placed the circle loaf in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes, just to give it a little jolt of life. Once it was out, I placed the whole thing, sheet pan and all, on the table and grabbed the honey (I’d made a point to get the “good” honey at the market.) I cut off a generous piece for myself, really sunk it into the honey (I had to get my money’s worth), and took a bite. Good, I thought, but not great. Perhaps I would try again, but this time without the honey. Again, good, but not great. There was something different about this challah. For starters, it wasn’t as sweet as challahs that I had made in the past. And it lacked that signature pillowy-ness. Where had I gone wrong? Should I have left the dough to rise for a shorter amount of time? Maybe I should’ve left the ropes a little looser when I braided them. The bread just seemed a little…dull. But, all was not lost. I still had two other loaves in the freezer just begging to become french toast one day. The cure for dull bread is frying it in butter and drenching it in Vermont maple syrup.

Thinking back, would I make Uri’s version of challah again? Yes. Next time, I’ll shorten the proofing time. I’ll add a little bit more sugar. Perhaps I will even give it a filling like Nutella, or cinnamon and brown sugar. No matter what happens, bread never disappoints when there’s filling in the middle.

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New Students, Spring ’17

Classes have just begun for students enrolled in the MLA in Gastronomy and Food Studies Graduate Certificate programs this Spring! Here are three of the new candidates.

 

sydneySydney Manning, originally from Wisconsin by way of California, was raised on cheese, brats, Kringle, and soul food. She spent junior and senior year of high school in England, where she was exposed to new countries, cultures, and authentic European cuisines. She received her BS in Marketing Communication from Emerson College and ventured into a career in social media marketing for both the food and hospitality industries. While working, Sydney began to develop an interest in cooking and eating that went beyond a night out or writing copy for one of her clients. Suddenly she found herself looking at a dish, longing to learn how to create it on her own, and began documenting every triumph (and occasional failure) on her blog, DaintyDwellings.com.

Gradually, each project she took on got more ambitious until she realized that preparing food (especially for others) had somehow become a part of her very being. It was then that she decided, the world of food was not only where she wanted to spend her personal life, but her professional life as well. With her degree in Gastronomy, Sydney hopes to pursue a career in food media, food activism, restaurant marketing, and/or hospitality.

madisonMadison Trapkin is a native Atlantan, born out of a love for food. As the daughter of a chef and a restaurant owner, she began her culinary love affair at a very young age. Madison graduated with a BA in Anthropology from the University of Georgia in 2014.   Shortly after, she boarded a plane to Italy to work as an au pair for a family of Russian winemakers living in the heart of Tuscany.  She returned to the US with a fire in her belly and a mission to make something out of her passion for food.

While in college, Madison created Bread & Thread (http://bread-and-thread.com), her food and art blog. She uses mediums such as photography, recipes, poems, and music to give her audience a multi-sensory food experience. The most important events in her life have always seemed to happen around a table – whether it’s her best friend’s teary wedding rehearsal dinner or a plate of fluffy pancakes at her parent’s house on a Sunday morning. Madison is elated at the opportunity to continue her liberal arts education as a part of BU’s Gastronomy program.  She’s especially excited about the possibility of combining food and gender studies and hopes to one-day work as a food writer or critic in some capacity.

 

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Photo: Jimmy Chau

Sarah Wu grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, but considers herself a bi-costal girl, as she was born on and frequently visits the East Coast. She earned her B.S. in Journalism at Boston University and has studied Spanish for nine years, including as a minor in college. Sarah can speak hours about Madrid and the Spanish food she deeply misses. She is a travel and food writer and the former managing editor of the Buzz. She also wrote, translated, and edited for Where Madrid, a travel magazine in Spain. After speaking with former Gastronomy students and taking Taste, Culture, and Power: The Global History of Food and Food Writing course at BU, she knew that she wanted to combine her love of writing and travel with global tastes in the Gastronomy program. When she’s not writing or editing, you can find her taking photos of food or ballroom dancers, as she is a competitive ballroom dancer herself. She hopes to write for a national magazine in the future or even work as a public relations coordinator for restaurants or food establishments. A less realistic goal for her is to host her own Travel Channel show, but she knows that her fast talking might not be great for television, so she prefers her pen and paper.

 

 

The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey, with Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt

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Left: Laila El-Haddad, Right: Maggie Schmitt                           Photo: Ashlyn Frassinelli

I’ve never seen the authors of a cookbook less interested in talking about recipes, and thank goodness. When I sat down for Laila and Maggie’s lecture, I expected to hear about local cuisine and staple foods of the region, maybe about their own experiences preparing food. But after five minutes, Maggie told us that she initially became interested in Gaza through her humanitarian work. And Laila admitted to having little connection with the kitchen. She explained that her mother, grandmother, and aunts rather shirked traditional female roles because they viewed them as antiquated chores. She explained how confused her family was when she said she decided to write a cookbook, that it was undoing the progress they had worked so hard to achieve. Immediately I realized that this was not a presentation designed to show us how to prepare Gazan cuisine at home. This was an effort to document and preserve the ancient foodways of one of the world’s most volatile regions.

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Left: Laila El-Haddad, Center: Nancy Harmon Jenkins, Right: Maggie Schmitt                                                                     Photo: Ashlyn Frassinelli

When I think of Gaza, I think of uncertainty. Those who live there expect the sounds of gunfire and explosions the way we expect to hear car horns. The last thing that comes to mind is the kind of food I might eat if I lived there. But for the people who live in Gaza, food is a comfort the same way it is for us. Laila and Maggie spoke of conflict and impossible living conditions. They said that parts of the area could be without power for hours or even days at a time. Maggie pointed out that it was hard enough for a mother to help her children with their homework and have dinner on the table under “normal” circumstances. But what about mothers in Gaza? At a time when life there is so tumultuous, Maggie and Laila were able to show how food is in many ways, the great unifier. That despite the uncertainties of daily life, people still take the time and gather to eat.

Cuisine in Gaza is based on what’s available. Like other places in the Middle East, that means lentils, cous cous, olive oil, chickpeas, lemon, and chili pepper among others. But at one point someone asked what the defining characteristic of Gazan food was. Laila immediately responded with the word, “heat.” She said that red chili pepper was in most of the food she associated with the region.

Laila also said that sour flavors are found in many dishes. Tamarind, sour plum, and pomegranate are used along with sumac to achieve what she called, “a gripping tartness.” These flavors combined with seasonings like za’atar, clove, cinnamon, sesame, dill, and garlic, aren’t exactly subtle. And while I know that heavily seasoned food isn’t uncommon in the regions surrounding Gaza, as I listened to Laila answer more questions, something occurred to me. The tone with which she spoke, her conviction, they were exactly like the ingredients she was talking about. These weren’t delicate, restrained flavors. They were purposeful, delightfully in your face. Certainly you don’t use clove, chili flakes, or sour plums without clear intention. They are statement-makers. And so was Laila. She and Maggie couldn’t have been better representatives for the kitchens of Gaza. Together they constituted a serious force.

They talked about the difficulties of obtaining traditional foods because of border closures, and how reliance on white flour and sugar were causing health problems associated with malnutrition among many citizens of Gaza. Maggie showed a photo of fisheries that were created as a result of limited access to the sea. They spoke of one-pot meals and a category of dishes Laila hesitantly allowed Maggie to refer to as “mush.” But after two hours of listening to their stories I was struck by what I really saw. Two mothers. Two very poised, confident women trying to tell the story of, quite possibly, the most unstable place in our world.

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Available on Amazon

For hundreds of years tribes of people have converged upon this small region. This has given way to a culinary tradition created from necessity, trade, and war. But despite the constant state of unrest, Maggie and Laila were able to paint a clear picture of a Gazan people who were unwavering and incredibly proud of their culinary heritage.

-Written by Chelsie Lincoln, MLA Gastronomy Student

Intro to Gastronomy: Student Papers

Finals are right around the corner and students from the Introduction to Gastronomy course are working on their final papers.  We asked them: “What are you are writing about?”  Here are some of their responses.

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Here is a description of the Intro course from the BU Gastronomy webstite.

“This course is designed to introduce students to current and foundational issues in food studies and gastronomy. Through this focus on central topics, students will engage directly in the interdisciplinary method that is central to food studies. Each week will introduce a unique view of the holistic approach that is central to a liberal arts approach to studying food and a new research technique will be presented and put into practice through the readings and course exercises. This course will give Gastronomy students a better understanding of the field as a whole. While providing an overview and methodological toolbox, it will act as a springboard in to areas of specialization of the course. 4 cr.”

Summer Course Spotlight: The Science of Food and Cooking

molecular gastronomy photoFood science meets culinary arts in the MLA in Gastronomy program’s Science of Food and Cooking course. In this Summer I course, basic food science is explored in the context of traditional and modern cooking techniques. Students will discover the science behind cooking everyday foods, explore molecular gastronomy, and learn how to use sensory evaluation techniques to analyze food products.

Students will conduct in-class experiments and have the opportunity to work in BU’s professional kitchen for a comprehensive look at the basic science that makes recipes work and how altering ingredients results in differing sensory properties. Join us for a combination of academic discussion and hands-on exploration of the science of food. This course is designed for food studies and other non-natural science majors and does not require prerequisites.

Instructor Valerie Ryan is a food scientist and food studies scholar. She holds a Master of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy and is certified in Culinary Arts; her Bachelor of Science is in Food and Nutrition, with a concentration in Food Chemistry. As a food scientist, she has worked for both government and industry in the areas of research and development; ingredient applications; chemical, nutritional, and sensory analysis; and product innovation. Ryan has focused her food studies research on the impact of taste preference on human evolution.

Limited seats are still available in this class, which will meet on Monday and Wednesday evenings, beginning May 18 and runs through June 25. Please register online at http://www.bu.edu/summer/registration/ by May 10 or contact gastrmla@bu.edu for more information