Homemade Bread

DSC_0133I have been wanting to write this post for a long time now, but never quite managed to get around to it, some other delicious recipe always crept in and I have been constantly pushing this post further and further down my to-do list. But, today, I am finally going to tell you all about my homemade breads, why I make homemade bread and how I get beautiful and tasty loaves.

My husband and I have been making homemade bread for years. It was my husband who really introduced me to bread making and who taught me many of the things that I know today. We began making our own bread for several different reasons, but the primary reason has always been that we enjoy the process of making our own bread and really, there is nothing better than homemade bread fresh out of the oven. Right? But, we also began making our bread because it was cheaper and we always felt that our breads were of equal or superior quality to what we found at the supermarket. Now, living on our farm, we continue to bake our own bread because we like to, but also because we need to. We live far from any supermarket and although we do have a bakery about 15 minutes from our farm and they make good breads, the variety is limited, and they don’t make a lot of the breads that we like to eat on a daily basis! Plus, any breads of really good quality can cost quite a lot and making bread at home, I can make a loaf for very cheap:)

Additionally, I want to share with all of you some of my bread making tips and experiences, because there is a lot of information on the internet about bread making, and sometimes I feel that this information is geared a little bit too much to people who only want to use expensive flours and make complex sourdough loaves. So today, I want to share with you a little bit about how I manage to get super tasty loaves, using cheap flours.

Homemade BreadI have never been someone to buy super expensive flours for my bread making. I like to mix whole wheat and rye flours, sometimes wheat germ and some seeds, but I have never felt it necessary to spend an arm-and-a-leg on my flours. In the USA there are many flour options and you can spend hours researching for the perfect flours. In Brazil, it is the opposite. There are a limited amount of flours available and, although you can probably buy some fancier flours in some supermarkets, the majority of supermarkets here carry white flour and probably some whole wheat flour, but not much else. So, although I anyway always bought the simpler flours, here in Brazil I don’t have much choice. White flour here is just plain white flour, there is no bleached or unbleached flour, there is no regular flour or bread flour. White flour is white flour. And, if I am not mistaken it is all bleached. Many breadmakers stress that you must use unbleached white flour and preferably bread flour. I have never had any problems using the regular white flour that I find here in Brazil. And, contrary to what a lot of people say about buying top quality expensive flours, I actually buy the cheapest flour at the supermarket. Some of our friends recommended it and it works beautifully.

Going on to whole wheat and rye flours. Again, my choices are limited here. My husband and I do all of our shopping for flours and grains in an area in São Paulo where they only sell these types of products. If I was going to find super specialty flours, I would find it here. All of the stores sell an insane amount of nuts, seeds, flours, grains….anything you can imagine. Guess what, I don’t find stoneground whole wheat flour or ten different types of rye flour. Usually, there is one type of whole wheat flour and that is the one I buy. Nothing special, just normal whole wheat flour.

Homemade BreadSo, for any of you people out there getting overwhelmed by the specialty flours and the many people telling you to use stoneground this or that flour. Forget it, buy some simple white flour, regular whole wheat or rye flour, and don’t give it too much thought. I have come to learn that, although expensive flours might make a difference for the breads, it is the way that you make your breads that is most important. Focus on the process!

I make all of our bread at home, we rarely buy, and this means that making complex loaves isn’t always ideal. Usually what I do is set aside one weekend to make about 10 loaves of bread. I then freeze everything and in about 4 to 6 weeks I will have a huge bread making weekend again. What I like to do on my bread making weekend is plan to make about 6 quick and simple loaves (I call these my everyday loaves) and about 4 sourdough loaves. We like sourdough loaves a lot, but these are not loaves that we can eat everyday! I always love my bread making weekends and contrary to what most people think, it does not take-up a lot of my time.

Most people think that making bread takes a lot of time. Well, I am here to tell you that it does NOT! The trick with bread making is that you need to plan. Usually what I do is make a schedule for the weekend. I write down exactly at what time I need to do everything for my recipes and as much as I can I join everything together. By doing this I know when I need to be in the house and when I have time to go out and do things around the farm! Planning is the key to easy bread making.

The primary loaf that I make is a quick and simple bread. It takes about 7 hours from start to finish and only requires about 1 hour of real hands on attention. I love this loaf because there is a lot of room to make adjustments. Depending on my mood, I will sometimes just make a 100% white loaf, or I will do 40% whole wheat or I will do 30% whole wheat and 10% rye, or I will even add linseed, sesame seed or sunflower seeds to the recipe. No matter what adjustments I make, the loaf always turns out super tasty and is a perfect everyday loaf. This is the loaf that I used to really perfect and improve my breadmaking techniques and skills and it has paid off. I have been constantly making this load for about a year now and I have managed to really fine tune it. But, it has also given me an amazing springboard for more complex and richer breads!

This is the perfect loaf for beginners. There is little room for error and even if the bread doesn’t turn out 100% it will probably still be edible and very tasty.

So, without saying too much more, as I have rambled quite a bit already, I will leave you with my white bread recipe taken from the wonderful recipe book by Ken Forkish Flour Water Salt Yeast.
White Bread Recipe

For the full recipe CLICK HERE!

These are some of my recommended changes to the recipe if you are feeling adventurous:

  1. 60% white flour; 40% whole wheat flour
  2. 35% white flour; 75% whole wheat flour
  3. 60% white flour; 30% whole wheat flour; 10% rye flour
  4. 90% white flour; 100g wheat germ
  5. Normal recipe but add 50g of seeds of your choice

Homemade Bread

 

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Pinhão – The Brazilian chestnut

PinhãoI know it is autumn here when the pinhão starts falling from the araucária tree. I have an araucária tree right in front of  my house and when the pinhão starts to fall, my deck becomes littered with these brown chestnut like nuts and there is a constant rain of them for weeks. From a distance you can often here them falling in the woods and almost everywhere you go the ground is littered with them.

Although temperatures do drop a little bit during winter here, no leaves on the trees change their color and everything remains green, although as the winter months drag on a little the grasses begin to turn brown and the trees lose their brilliant green because of a lack of water. But, all of these winter changes are subtle. The real indicator that autumn is here and winter is soon starting is the falling pinhão.

Pinhão

This is the seed ball from the Araucária tree.

The pinhão is the seed from the aruacária tree (see my post about the aruacária tree HERE), a pine tree that can be found in southern Brazil, Chile and Australia. The seed begins growing in a tight green ball in about February or March, it continues to grow throughout the year. The next March and beginning of April these seeds turn a beautiful brown and as they continue to expand, eventually their seed ball bursts and the seeds fall to the ground.

The seeds or pinhão as it is called here in Brazil is like a chestnut. It has a woody outside layer and inside is a soft, starchy, nut. When boiled they becoming this lovely soft nut that is a great addition to any kind of dish.

Pinhão

The seed balls all burst!

Every year I make sure that I gather some pinhão and, besides eating them straight out of the pan, I add them to rice, stir fries or even make gnocchi with them. They keep for several months, so it is always nice to get a good collection in the house to boil-up whenever you want.

Because you cannot find pinhão for sale in the USA I will not share a recipe. But instead leave you with some pictures of this beautiful nut.

If you are ever in the south of Brazil in March or April make sure to look out for these!

Cooked pinhão

Cooked pinhão

Rural Brazil – Curing Cheese

How to cure fresh cheese

I’m not sure if it is just because I live very far from stores, or really anything for that matter, or if it is really because this is something I like to do, but I try to make as much as I possibly can at home. Whether it be, jam, tomato sauce, bread, granola, soap or cheese, you can be pretty sure that I make it on a regular basis here on my farm. There is no question that I enjoy making my own things. I make bread on a bi-weekly basis and I love it. There is nothing better than digging into a fresh homemade loaf of bread. The same goes for jam. Sounds silly, but I often find that what I make at home tastes so much better than anything I can buy at the store.

So, after almost a year of buying fresh cheese from my neighbor, my husband thought it was time that we tried to cure some of the fresh cheese and see if we could diversify our cheeses at home (we had basically just been eating fresh cheese for months). I bought a couple of cheeses and put them in a cheese mold on a plate and left them to sit for several weeks. For the first week I had to remove the whey that accumulated on the plate everyday. I also turned the cheeses daily. After a week most of the whey had been released from the cheese. I left the cheese for about another 2 to 3 weeks, turning it every few days. Once the cheese had developed a nice protective crust I removed it from the cheese mold so that it had more access to air and could dry a little quicker.

At some point, about 3 weeks after we began the curing process, my husband and I decided it was time to try the cheese. It was absolutely amazing. The flavor was rich, it was not too hard and was perfect for eating with toast, on crackers or using in pão de queijo.

We were onto something with our cheese curing and so began my mania of trying to find the perfect way to cure cheese.

I tried soaking the fresh cheeses in a brine of approximately 50% water and 50% salt. I left some cheeses for 24 hours in the brine and others for almost a week. After soaking in the brine I left the cheeses on plates to cure. Some of the cheeses I weighed down with a stone cheese weight to try to press out as much liquid as possible, others I didn’t weigh down. With some cheeses I covered the outside with salt instead of doing a brine. The length of time I left the cheeses to cure varied and I wasn’t very diligent at recording the lengths of time that the cheeses sat curing.

I had a whole variety of results. The cheeses that I weighed down became very dry, I even had one that turned into a perfect parmasan. The cheeses that I took out less water from were tastier and much moister. Some accidents occured, giving some of the best results! One of these accidents consisted of me forgetting a cheese in my refrigerator for almost more than a month. When I found it, it had turned into a cream. My husband and I decided to try it as we didn’t want to throw it out. It was a delicious spreadable cheese.

We have tried to recreate that accident with some success!

My final conclusion on curing cheese has been to scrap the brining process and placing weights on the cheeses to remove as much liquid. Instead, as soon as I bring home my fresh cheeses (they are usually no more than 24 hours old when I buy them from my neighbor) I place them on plates. I  remove all the whey from the plates each day and turn the cheeses. This usually lasts about a week. Then, once the cheeses have developed a little crust I move them onto a rack and let them cure for 3 to 4 weeks, turning them every few days.

After about a week of curing the cheeses can be eaten. They will still be relatively soft, but the flavor will already be much richer than a fresh cheese. I like to leave my cheese cure for much longer as I like a harder cheese. But, sometimes I eat them quicker……

I now always have at leat two cheeses curing on my kitchen shelf. I usually eat the cured cheeses on toast or crackers. But, I also use them in baking!

 

Homemade Cordials

Homemade CordialAfter a long day of working outside in the fields I like to come home, begin cooking dinner, and make myself a drink (usually caipirinha, but a cold beer is also always a good way to end the day). But, sometime ago we began making cordials at home and they have become one of my favorite things to have at the end of the day. Either I fill a shot glass and sip at it or I will fill a bit of a bigger glass with some ice and add the cordial. It is really refreshing!

I love cordials and there is nothing better than to have a full selection of homemade ones that you can pick and choose from.

Last year we had a lot of fruits on the farm and instead of just making jam with them all I decided it would be great to make some cordials. So, I made blackberry, plum and jabuticaba (this is a grape like fruit that grows on the trunk of the tree, here’s the link to the Wikipedia page about it). They all turned out really well, and although I made quite a lot, they were gone pretty quickly. Everyone’s favorite was the plum cordial, but the blackberry and jabuticaba were not far behind.

If you have some fruits on hand, or just want to make your own cordials give this recipe a try. I use this same recipe for all of my cordials because it is super easy! My alcohol of choice is cachaça as I can find it for very cheap, but you can substitute it for vodka!

SIMPLE CORDIAL RECIPE

1 kg of fruit (plum, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry or jabuticaba)
1 liter of alcohol, cachaça or vodka
2 bottles of water
1 kg white sugar

Put the fruit and alcohol together into a jar. Seal well and leave to macerate for approximately 24 days. If you would like a stronger fruit flavor you can leave sit for an additional 10 days.

After 24 days, prepare a simple syrup with the water and the sugar. In a medium pan mix the water and sugar together, bring to a light boil and let simmer until you have a very light syrup. The consistency should be a little thick! Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Filter the alcohol and fruit mix. Make sure to remove all of the fruit. Pass through a sieve several times if necessary.

Once the syrup has cooled, mix the alcohol and syrup together. Add the syrup a little at a time and taste after each addition. Add more or less syrup to the alcohol depending on your desired flavour. For more sweet, add more syrup, for less sweet, add less!

Mix well and bottle.

Rural Brazil – Summer Eggplant Lasagna

Eggplant lasagnaWe know it is summer when we can finally make our yummy eggplant lasagna. Because I live at a high altitude the weather is much colder than most of Brazil, nights are cold all year around and we actually have some seasons or at least there is a distinct difference between our winter and summer. All of this means that we cannot grow specific vegetables throughout the whole year. Mainly it is the fruits that we cannot grow such as tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers and eggplant.

We begin seeding our summer fruits in august, get the transplants in the ground by mid October and begin harvesting cucumber and zucchini by late November or early December. Tomatoes we can harvest by the end of December and pepper and eggplant only in January. By April it already begins to get too cold to continue planting. We are able to harvest into mid May, but by June all of  our summer fruits are finished.

So, a lot of the year we eat the basic vegetables such as collards, beets, carrots, escarole and spinach. But, when summer starts we go crazy in the kitchen with all of our summer dishes. We make a lot of antipastos, turn a lot of our tomatoes into sauce that usually lasts us the whole year and we make one of our all time favorite dishes: eggplant lasagna.

We love eggplant and when we have it we eat as much as possible. Our eggplant lasagna usually makes it into our menu on a weekly basis. It is so simple and we actually make this without pasta, so it is gluten-free!

We know that summer has really started when we can make our eggplant lasagna. So, yesterday was the first day I made eggplant lasagna and although it is unseasonable cold we know that summer is here!

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do. If you want to add pasta, you most definitely can!
Eggplant lasagna

Ingredients

2 large eggplants or 4 small
2 large jars/cans of tomato sauce
1 recipe of white sauce or bechamel
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper
Parmesan cheese or mozzarella

Slice the eggplant as thinly as possible, length wise. Place in a bowl and season with olive oil, salt and pepper. Let rest for approximately 10-15 minutes.

Make one recipe of white sauce or bechamel. I do not use measurements, so if you do not have your own recipe you can follow this one HERE!

Preheat oven to 250C/480F.

To assemble the lasagna begin by spreading a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of your lasagna pan. Place a full layer of eggplant on top of the tomato sauce, cover with the white sauce and next add the tomato sauce. Continue in this manner until you have finished all ingredients or reached the top of your pan. Top with cheese.

Cover with aluminium foil and cook in the oven for 45-60 minutes. When almost baked through, uncover and allow the top to brown.