As I basked in the sun on my front porch last week I suddenly realized that it had been a while, a LONG while, since I had spent time in the kitchen. I had put granola and yogurt in a bowl, brown rice in a pot of boiling water, and fried a few eggs here and there, but I hadn’t spent more than 30 minutes making anything. And so, I vowed to make dinner…a big, elaborate dinner.
I went to the “to make” folder on my computer and came across Alexandra’s recipe for homemade tortillas. Yes, the recipe is a little bit tedious, but I was sure it would be worth the effort. Oh boy, was I right!
Homemade tortillas are fantastic: soft, yet chewy, with far more flavor than their store-bought cousins. I topped the misshapen beauties with spiced, shredded chicken thighs, citrus-jicama slaw, corn salsa, and queso fresco. Served with spicy black beans, and chips and salsa, the meal was a hit.
Homemade Flour Tortillas
(recipe from Alexandra’s Kitchen)
Makes about 10 small tortillas or 6 large (burrito size) tortillas.
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tsp. table salt (not kosher) I used sea salt, fine
1/4 t. baking powder
1/4 c. unsalted butter
2/3 cup warm water
Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl. Cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Stir in warm water with a fork until a shaggy dough forms.
Turn out onto a floured surface and knead 3-4 minutes until smooth, soft, and not sticky, adding more flour if necessary.
Cut the dough into 2-oz. pieces for taco-sized tortillas or 3-oz pieces for burrito-sized tortillas. Shape pieces into a ball. Cover with a very light kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Be careful that your room isn’t too hot. Let the dough rest 30 minutes and up to two hours.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out each ball to about 9 to 10 inches (taco) or 11 to 12 inches (burrito) in diameter, or until you can see the counter start to come through.
Heat a 12 inch non-stick or cast-iron pan (do not add any oil) on medium-high. Lay the tortilla in the pan and cook until it puffs and little brown spots on the underside appear. Turn with tongs and cook. Each tortilla takes about 45 seconds.
Yeast: few like to work with it, the majority of people fear it. Why does baking with yeast seem so intimidating? Yeast-raised goods usually have a lot of steps, and take a lot of time. What if you put in all the time and the dough never even rises? Oh the nightmares!
I want to start pressuring people to make their own bread. It tastes so much better than store-bought options, it makes the house smell delicious, and you can customize the loaf to your liking. Not convinced yet? Let me help you out with a little guide to using yeast and a delicious (and relatively easy) recipe to test your new skills.
You will come across a few different types of yeast when looking at bread recipes, but these three are the most common:
- Active Dry: Active Dry is my baking yeast of choice, in part for the convenient little packets (2 1/4 teaspoons in each packet), and its availability. It should be “re-activated” by dissolving in warm water (100-115 degrees) and (sometimes) a pinch of sugar. In order to make sure that the yeast hasn’t gone bad, let the mixture sit for 10 minutes. If you have a foamy, bubbly yeast mixture after time has passed–voila, you are ready to bake. If not, your yeast has died. Try a new packet.
- Instant, or Rapid Rise: Rapid Rise yeast can be added directly to the dry ingredients, without dissolving in water. As the name hints, your bread may rise a bit quicker than bread made with active dry yeast. It has been the yeast of choice for no-knead aficionados.
- Cake or Fresh: Typically preferred by more advanced bakers, and more tricky to find in grocery stores, cake yeast only has a shelf life of about 2 weeks. You can refresh the yeast in 80-90 degree water for about 10 minutes. Like active dry, if no bubbles appear your yeast has probably gone bad.
Don’t have the type of yeast a recipe calls for? Well, there’s good news because you can substitute whatever yeast you have on hand. Just use this conversion table.
Things to keep in mind when baking bread:
- If your dough springs back when rolling it into shapes (which may happen when making these Parker House Rolls) walk away for 10 minutes and let the dough rest. When you come back it should be ready to cooperate!
- In order to preserve a loaf’s crust, wrap the bread in parchment paper or a paper bag. The minute you wrap bread in plastic it will lose its crunch.
- Most doughs can be refrigerated for a slow rise. If you are not in a rush, and are baking a treat for breakfast, try chilling the formed dough overnight. Simply take the dough out while preheating the oven, and enjoy freshly baked items in the morning without waking up at 4am.
- I know, I know, eating bread straight from the oven is probably one of the biggest motivations to bake your own. But, by cutting the bread before it has come to room temperature you are not letting the loaf cook completely. Think of cooling as the last stage in the bread baking process. You wouldn’t want all your hard work to go to waste, would you? Now, I’m not saying that if you cut the bread prematurely it will be horrible. It will, in fact, probably be quite good. But, it will be even better if you allow the loaf to cool.
- New to baking bread? Try kneading the dough by hand, even if you have one of those handy electronic mixers. You’ll be amazed by the dough’s transformation from sticky and rough to smooth as a baby’s bottom! You may also find the process to be a great stress reliever.
Have any other pressing bread baking questions? There are loads of great resources on the web. Here are a few: Baking 911, Reluctant Gourmet, and YouTube. Or, if you don’t feel like searching, write a comment and I’ll try my best to find the answer. Have fun baking!
Parker House Rolls don’t motivate you to bake with yeast? Try these temptations: Heidi’s Baked Doughnuts, Seven Spoon’s Banana Bread Yeasted Waffles, or perhaps Pumpkin Brioche Cinnamon Rolls.
Parker House Rolls
(Adapted from The Martha Stewart Baking Handbook)
Yield: 30 rolls
12 tablespoons butter
1 1/4 cups warm milk (110 degrees)
2 envelopes (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
approximately 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Butter a 12 x 9 inch rimmed baking sheet. Place 1/2 cup warm milk in a small bowl, and sprinkle with yeast; stir to dissolve yeast. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring remaining 3/4 cup milk just to a simmer. Remove from heat; add 6 tablespoons butter, along with the sugar and salt, stirring until the butter has melted. Set aside.
If using a mixer: place 4 1/2 cups flour in the bowl of an electric mixer. Make a well in the center of the flour, and pour in the yeast mixture, butter mixture, and eggs. Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the dough hook, and beat on low speed until the dough just starts to come together, about 2 minutes. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and no longer sticky, 5 minutes, adding remaining cup of flour as needed. Butter or oil a large bowl; place the dough in bowl, turning to coat evenly with butter. COver with a clean kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours. Punch down dough, and let rest 10 minutes.
Melt remaining 6 tablespoons of butter. Divide the dough into two equal pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece into a 12 x 10 inch rectangle, keeping the second piece covered with the towel. Refrigerate dough until well chilled, about 30 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Cut on piece of chilled dough lengthwise into five 2-inch wide strips. Cut each strip into three 4-inch long rectangles. With a short side facing you, brush the top half of one rectangle with some melted butter, and fold over, about one-third of the way. Transfer to prepared pan, folded side down. Repeat with remaining rectangles, arranging in pan so that they overlap slightly. Repeat with remaining dough. Cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let rolls rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 30 minutes. Brush melted butter over top of each roll. Bake until golden brown, 20-25 minutes.