Thursday, December 25, 2008

Who Doesn't love a good loaf of Jewish Rye Bread?

Where I grew up as a kid we had great Jewish delicatessens in practically every big neighborhood or town. I can remember going to our local deli every week to buy a loaf or two of their rye bread. They had big machines that would slice the bread for you and then put it in the white paper bag and home you'd go with a delicious warm loaf of the best rye bread to ever pass your lips.

The crust had to be a little chewy and the color of dark honey and of course it had to have caraway seeds all throughout including the crust. If this is the kind of rye bread you long for, you can make your own. Yes, you heard me, you can make your own, but understand, any good loaf of bread can take a while to make as there can be numerous steps and it can actually take days from start to finish.

I will guide you through how I make my rye bread and then you can see if you are up to the task.

Jewish Rye Bread

Milk Sour:
1-1/2 cups buttermilk
3/4 cup medium rye flour

1. The first step is making the Milk Sour which consists of 1-1/2 cups of buttermilk let to sit out overnight in a warm place uncovered. The next morning, slowly pour in 3/4 cup of rye flour and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth and again let sit out overnight uncovered at room temperature.

The Rye Sponge:
1 pkg active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
all of the milk sour from previous step
1/4 cup rye flour
2 cups unbleached white flour

2. For the sponge, proof the yeast in the warm water. When it is creamy, after around 10 minutes, pour it and the milk sour into a large bowl. Mix in the flours, stirring until you have a batter and let the sponge sit, covered at room temperature for 4 hours until it has tripled in size and dropped. (warm place)

The Dough:
all of the sponge from the previous step
1 T salt
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 cup warm water
3 cups unbleached white flour
3 T caraway seeds

Glaze: 1 egg white and 1 teasp cold water

3. To make the dough, add the rest of the ingredients with salt being last. Add the caraway seeds and water first and then add the flour a little at a time until you can't stir anymore. Don't forget to add the salt and then pour out onto a floured board and knead the rest of the flour in until it is not sticky and gooey anymore. You will need to add more flour until you have the right consistency. *Note: This can change every time you make it depending on your weather and the amount of moisture in the air.

Let the dough rise until double in size 50-60 minutes.

Punch down and flatten out. Form a large log pushing away and under. Place it seam side down on a baking sheet sprinkled with large grain cornmeal.

Preheat oven to 400. Let loaves rise 30-40 minutes until they don't spring back quickly. Slash 3-4 times diagonally across the loaf with a razor blade and glaze the top with egg glaze. Bake 35-40 minutes and spritz the inside of the oven with a water bottle or throw 4 ice cubes and 1/4 cup of cold water onto the floor of the oven when you open it to put in the bread.

Notes: I prefer to use a bread stone (Pizza stone) instead of sheet pans as it bakes evenly and gives the bottom of the loaf a good color. If you have a pizza paddle to put the loaf on prior to placing in the oven you will have an easier time transferring the loaf. This is a big recipe so you may opt as I often do, to make two loaves with this instead of one big one.

There are three rules to baking great bread. Preheat the oven a minimum of 30 minutes before baking, use a baking stone and mist the oven in the first 10 minutes of baking.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Its Crab Season!

Now that I'm back in the Pacific Northwest, I have access to the freshest seafood from the coast of Oregon and right now, its Dungeness crab season. I love all shellfish but fresh crab is hard to beat anywhere. One of my favorite things to do with crab is make crab-cakes. Not those breaded cakey things loaded with other vegetables and tons of bread crumbs, but REAL crab-cakes with tons of lump crab meat and nothing else!

Having grown up on the east coast in Delaware and gone to summer camp on the Chesapeake Bay, I grew up on blue crab which we had any number of ways. It was common in the summer to have big parties with bushel baskets of blue crab that had been cooked in a spicy "crab boil" and then thrown out onto newspaper covered picnic tables with little wooden hammers to crack the crab and then just suck down that delicious meat along with the spices from the boil which would make your lips burn just slightly. And how could I ever forget soft shelled crab sandwiches? Oh boy, when I think of the hometown foods from my childhood, I think of Chesapeake Bay blue crab, Maryland crab-cakes, Tastycakes, submarine sandwiches, cheese steak sandwiches, scrapple, Hires rootbeer, sweet Jersey corn on the cob and Herr's potato chips. For now, I will have to settle for the hometown flavors of Maryland style crab-cakes.

Here is my favorite basic recipe that comes from a great cookbook called The Chesapeake Bay Cookbook and the recipe is for Gertie's Crab Cakes. This is just too perfect a recipe to mess with so I use it entirely as is:

Gertie's Crab Cakes
1 egg
2 T mayonnaise
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
dash Tobasco sauce
1 pound picked crabmeat
1/4 cup cracker crumbs (not bread crumbs!)
Veg oil for frying

In a mixing bowl combine the egg, mayo, mustard, pepper, Old Bay, Worcestershire and Tobasco and mix until frothy.

Place the crabmeat in a bowl and pour the mixture over the top. Sprinkle on the cracker crumbs and gently toss together trying not to break up the bigger chunks. (I get saltines and grind up in the mini Cuisinart)

Form the cakes by hand into 3 inch wide and 1 inch thick rounded mounds. Do not pack the crab-cake batter together too firmly. Keep as loose as possible but still holding together.

Heat oil to 375 and fry the cakes in about a 1/2" of oil a few at a time until golden brown on both sides. About 3 minutes total and remove to paper towels to drain. Serve at once.