For more years than I like to admit, we've been slowly but surely working on a large metal building here on the farm that will one day house our wholesale artisan bread bakery and us. Since progress lately has been more along the lines of slowly rather than surely, we finally broke down and admitted to ourselves that this project was never going to be completed unless we hired some outside help. Besides, The Shack is literally falling down around us.
For the past three weeks, our new contractor and his helper have been hard at work by 7:30 nearly every weekday morning. Great headway is being made, and we're both extremely excited. It looks like 2008 really will be The Year We Move Out Of The Shack. It's like a checkbook-draining dream come true.
Home Sweet Soon-To-Be Home
The builders weren't planning to start until the end of this month, but a spot opened up in their schedule, and anybody who's ever had construction done or watched the movie "The Money Pit" knows that you never, ever turn away a contractor who is willing to show up and work. Because of our schedule, though, this has necessitated my becoming more involved with the project at this point than was originally planned. Suddenly I've been busy making command decisions about phone jacks and bathroom lighting while frantically trying to figure out whether we might someday want to put in a bigger refrigerator or a second deck oven. I also get to go pick stuff up.
I now know what it feels like to spend five and a half hours shopping alone at Lowe's Home Improvement Center. The other day, arriving mostly clueless and clutching a very long list, I systematically worked my way through what felt like 3,000 miles of aisles, pouncing on every one of those PRESS THIS BUTTON IF YOU NEED HELP thingies I could find. But since the store was practically empty of customers--everybody else was apparently out shopping for holiday presents rather than junction box covers and 33 feet of 10-3 wire for the dryer--there was only a skeleton crew on the floor. The third time this one guy rounded a corner and saw me standing by the help button he actually blurted out, "Not you again!" At least he was smiling when he said it.
After I'd sweet talked another guy into helping me pick through an enormous pile of 2x4s in search of 32 really pretty ones (did you know you can use a garden hoe to pull the far stacks of boards within reach?), and yet another one into helping me secure said 2x4s (along with the several dozen other boards I'd picked out myself) in the bed of the truck, I headed out in the foggy, rainy darkness for the 90 mile drive back to the farm, smiling at the half-price rosemary topiary I'd treated myself to as a reward for making it out of the store alive.
It's important to learn new things, and I'm proud that I can now carry on a semi-intelligent conversation about RACO boxes, ring shanks, and SEU cable. I understand the difference between full round head and clipped head nails, and I've fallen head over heels for 1x4s, which from now on I will refer to as 'girl boards.' I also know all kinds of stuff about breaker boxes and pulling amps.
This is all very thrilling of course, but I'd much rather be baking than taking Wiring 101, especially as I watch our bread bakery finally becoming a reality. It's a proven fact that workers are 50% more productive when they've been well fed (no, really), and our two builders informed me early on that they love baked goods of any sort. When I'm not stuffing them with molasses ginger spice snaps, Mexican monkey cake, or my decidedly different chocolate chip cookies (which they both declared were the best cookies they'd ever eaten), I've been experimenting with new bread recipes, including this one.
Italian Rosemary Raisin Bread (Pane di Ramerino)
Makes 2 small loaves - Adapted slightly from Bread
This is the second recipe I've made from a wonderful book called Bread: Artisan Breads from Baguettes and Bagels to Focaccia and Brioche by authors and cooking instructors Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno (he's French, she's Italian). If you learn best by looking at pictures, then this is definitely the book for you because it's packed with gorgeous, full-color photos. And while it's a perfect book for beginners, I think many experienced bakers would also enjoy it. I've already discovered all sorts of handy tips and useful nuggets of information, and there are several more breads I'm planning to make. At under $16, it's also a bargain.
Pane di Ramerino has been baked daily throughout Tuscany since the early 16th century. As you can see, this is a beautiful bread, and it would not only be perfect to serve to holiday guests, but would also make a lovely gift. Thankfully the recipe makes two small loaves so you can spread the yeasty joy and still have some left for yourself.
I never would have thought to combine raisins and rosemary in bread (I'm not that adventurous when it comes to herbs), but the result is deliciously different. The flavor of the rosemary is subtle; simply double the amount if you want to taste it more. This is a rich, easy-to-work-with dough made with milk, olive oil (which adds another layer of flavor) and eggs. The texture of the crumb is reminiscent of a cinnamon roll. This bread freezes beautifully and can even be sliced while still frozen.
It also makes amazing toast, which I've been eating slathered with apricot jam and thinly sliced sharp cheddar cheese. It may sound like an odd combination, but it reminds me of the cheese and chutney sandwiches I was introduced to by an English pal when I was a kid.
The authors claim it is a superlative breakfast bread and "quite simply the best accompaniment to fresh goat cheese." My friend Amanda, who writes about Mediterranean food at the glorious blog Figs Olives Wine, suggested using it to make her cool weather bruschetta with ricotta salata and thyme. Mmmmmmm.
3-3/4 cups bread flour, plus a little more while kneading
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/2 cup warm milk
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1-1/2 packed cups raisins
4 Tablespoons olive oil
4 eggs, beaten
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1. Mix the flour and yeast in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add the milk, rosemary, raisins, olive oil, and eggs. Mix to form a soft, sticky dough, adding extra flour, 1 Tablespoon at a time, if the dough is too moist.
2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead 6 minutes. Cover the dough and let it rest for 20 minutes.
3. Knead in the 1-1/2 teaspoons salt, and continue kneading until the dough is silky, springy, and elastic, about 5 to 8 minutes.
4. Put the dough in a plastic lidded container (or in a large bowl covered with a damp tea towel) and let it rise until double in size, about 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
5. Divide the dough into two pieces. Shape each into a round loaf. If you don't have a baking stone (Been thinking about buying one? This really nice one is on sale for half price right now at Amazon.com--just $19.95) place the rounds on a parchment-lined heavy baking sheet. Heat oven and baking stone to 400 degrees. Proof loaves until doubled in size, about 1 hour. (Note: the book says that the loaves will spread and look slightly flat after rising, but will rise up dramatically during the initial stages of baking. Mine didn't flatten out, but my dough was on the dense side.)
6. Cut a slash, 1/2 inch deep, across the top of the loaf, then another in the opposite direction to make an "X."
7. Bake in the preheated oven (directly on the baking stone if you have one) until golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped underneath, about 30 minutes with a baking stone and 45 minutes without. Cool on a wire rack.
Farmgirl Susan, Food Correspondent:
Susan's column, "In The Kitchen With Farmgirl Susan," is featured on Gather Essentials:Food and takes a Less Fuss, More Flavor approach to comfort food, seasonal eating, & organic kitchen gardening. Susan was a cultured California chick who happily turned manure mucking farmgirl. She now lives on a 240-acre remote Missouri farm with sheep, chickens, two dogs, five cats, an adorable donkey named Dan, & one very well fed farmguy. She shares stories and photos of her crazy country life with over 50,000 visitors a month at her award-winning blog, FarmgirlFare.com.
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