You say potato, I say focaccia

Baking is how I decompress at the beginning of most days. Does that sound weird? I tend to wake up with a jumble of ideas spilling out of my head and an annoying level of Morning Person energy, but instead of waking my husband up to discuss whatever revelation I’ve had about whichever film we watched the night before that resulted in an hour-long post-film conversation until we collapsed into bed, me still jabbering away until I fell asleep mid-sentence (which is finished, of course, as I awake) – well, instead I just let him continue sleeping, and I channel this energy into my favorite wooden mixing spoon. It must be exhausting to live with someone like me! They deserve a muffin.

Under the Dome-potato focacciamuffins and whatnot always reside under the dome of this cake stand // hilariously enough (to me), Under the Dome is the only novel by King I have not read // if you’re a King fan, hurry up and get a copy of Doctor Sleep and read it and then let me know because I’m going crazy not having anyone to talk to about it!

On weekdays, it’s muffins or cookies and sometimes even a cake. If I can mix it up before the oven finishes preheating and shower in the time it takes to bake, it’s fair game. On weekends I get a little more creative. I have the time to experiment with pastry dough, with anything that begs to be stuffed or layered, and lately – yeasted breads. In fact, most weekends begin with two rounds of focacce.

potato focaccia+new hatautumn hiking essentials for my munchkin vegan (also a Morning Person, yay!): bamboo wrist warmers, linen/cotton hat, wedge of tomato-kissed focaccia

I’ve baked a lot of bread by ratio, dutifully taring my kitchen scale before the addition of each new ingredient, confident that the outcome will be essentially fail proof. But you know what? Failure can be fun. Most of the time I prefer to bake by intuition, with minimal measuring of ingredients and all caution thrown to the wind. I’m a fly by the seat of my pants baker at heart, and it serves me well.

potato focaccia extreme closeupyeast + potatoes = magic

Potato focaccia

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This is a really wet, sticky dough, and I only make it with a stand mixer. If you decide to make it by hand, just remember that you want the dough to be somewhat sticky. Also, the potatoes used in this recipe should be waxy and creamy (yukons), not dry and fluffy (russets). Do not use baking potatoes, they have an entirely different water and starch content that does not work well in this bread. Also! You will need to reserve your cooking water, and it will need to be lukewarm – not hot – when you combine it with the yeast. To speed things up I often put my reserved cooking water into the freezer to cool it down while I’m whipping the potatoes. If you get busy and leave your cooked potatoes to hang out for an hour or so, that’s okay too! This is a very forgiving recipe. As long as you don’t kill your yeast by using too-hot water (105 degrees), you’re good to go.

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3-4 medium yellow-fleshed or red-skinned potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 Cup reserved cooking water, divided
2 1/2 teaspoons (or 1 packet) dry active yeast
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4-5 Cups white spelt flour
Olive oil
1-2 tablespoons tomato paste
(optional) fresh minced herbs or chopped olives

Combine the chopped potatoes with a generous amount of cold water in a large pot and simmer until fork tender. Do not drain.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked potatoes to the bowl of your stand mixer along with 1/3 cup reserved cooking water. With the paddle attachment, whip the potatoes until creamy. A few lumps are fine. Set aside until both the whipped potatoes and the remaining reserved cooking water have cooled.

Switch out the paddle for the dough hook attachment. Add the remaining 2/3 cup cooled potato water to the mixing bowl, allowing it to pool on top of the potatoes. Sprinkle the yeast and salt into the water; the yeast should start to look creamy after a couple of minutes. Add one cup of flour to the mixing bowl and mix on low until fully incorporated. Continue adding flour one cup at a time until you’ve added four cups total. Continue adding flour in quarter cup increments until your dough starts forming a sticky ball around the hook; it will look a lot like taffy, or a glob of melted marshmallow. Increase mixing speed to medium and let the dough hook knead the dough for five minutes. You may need to stop the mixer once or twice to scrape the dough off the hook.

Drizzle a thin stream of olive oil around the inside perimeter of the bowl. Using a silicone spatula, work the dough into a large ball by sliding the spatula around the edge of the mixing bowl where it meets the dough, using the spatula to coat the dough ball with oil as you turn it. Cover with a tea towel and leave to sit in a warm spot for 60-90 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size.

Lightly oil two 9-inch round cake pans. Using your best estimate, put half of the dough into each pan. If you need to pinch some from one pan and transfer it to the other, no problem! The dough is very forgiving. Using a silicone spatula or lightly oiled fingers, stretch the dough along the bottom of each pan until it reaches the edge and forms an even layer. Allow to rest for fifteen minutes.

Use your fingers to make dimples in the surface of the dough. Cover and allow to rest for another 45 minutes.

Twenty minutes before your dough is finished with this last rise, set a rack in the bottom position and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

When the oven is heated and your dough has finished rising, it’s time to add your topping. Mix the tomato paste with a few drops of oil until it is slightly thinned. Gently brush the tomato mixture over the surface of the dough. Sprinkle with fresh herbs or olives, if using.

Place both pans on the bottom rack of the oven and immediately decrease the temperature to 375. Bake for 30 minutes or until the loaves are golden on top and pulling away from the edges of each pan. Carefully remove each focaccia from its pan and transfer to a cooling rack. This bread may be sliced immediately as long as you use a sharp serrated knife.

Total time (mostly inactive): 3 ½ – 4 hours | Bake time: 30 minutes

One, two, three, four . . .

Yes, I’ve been listening to a lot of Feist lately. But it’s not penguins I’m counting . . .

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Welcome to the Blue Plate Special tour stop for Kathy Hester’s virtual cookbook blogtour!  Today’s tour has four parts:

1. The nitty gritty.
Title: The Great Vegan Bean Book
Author: Kathy Hester
Blog: Healthy Slow Cooking
Publisher: Fair Winds Press
Why this book belongs on your bookshelf: Whether you’re a bean lover because they’re cheap or an heirloom bean aficionado for whom price is no object, you can make any of these recipes without breaking the bank. Recipes span everything from your traditional chili and curry to doughnuts(!) and popsicles(!!). Nearly every recipe has instructions to make them soy- or gluten-free.  Also!  Beans are high in fiber and protein. But I bet you already knew that.
Where to purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Herbivore, Indiebound

2. The sneak peek.

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Niçoise salad

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Indian chickpea yogurt salad

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Blueberry almond oatmeal pancakes

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Insanely flaky, melt in your mouth, gluten-free biscuits

3. The recipes.
With permission from Fair Winds Press, I’m sharing two recipes from the book with you today: one that is Kathy’s (Southern style gravy), and one that is mine (gluten-free biscuits). Below are the recipes as they appear in the book. In a separate post, I’m going to do my best Cooks Illustrated attempt at explaining the why’s and how’s of these gluten-free biscuits.

Gluten-free biscuits and Southern style gravy

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This gravy gets its Southern kick from a healthy dose of black pepper.  I like to round mine out with some fresh minced thyme and sage.  The biscuit recipe as printed in the book has my name in it, which is why they’re called “Monika’s” gluten-free biscuits.

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Southern-style white bean gravy:

1 1/2 cups (269 g) cooked white beans or 1 can (15 ounces, or 425 g), rinsed and drained
3/4 cup (175 ml) unsweetened nondairy milk (*use soy-free)
1/4 teaspoon salt
¼ to ½ teaspoon black pepper
Optional: 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon each of minced fresh sage, thyme, or rosemary

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Taste and add more pepper if it doesn’t pack a kick. Southern gravy is traditionally on the spicy side, but it’s just from ground black pepper.

Transfer to a saucepan and warm over low heat and then serve over homemade biscuits split in half.

Yield: 2 Cups | Prep time: 5 minutes | Cooking time: 10 minutes

Monika’s gluten free biscuits:

¾ cup (100 g) sweet sorghum flour, plus extra for kneading
¾ cup (90 g) millet flour
Scant ¼ cup (48 g) potato starch
6 tablespoons (45 g) tapioca flour or starch
2 teaspoons fine-grain sea salt
1 tablespoon (13.8 g) baking powder
½ cup (112 g) vegan shortening, chilled and cut into small cubes (*use soy free)
1 to 1 1⁄3 cups (230 to 307 g) plain soy yogurt (*use coconut yogurt)

Sift the flours, starches, salt, and baking powder thoroughly in a large bowl and then transfer to a food processor. Distribute the cubes of chilled shortening evenly over the surface of the flour and pulse several times until the pieces of shortening are the size of peas.

Add 1 cup (230 g) of the yogurt and pulse just until incorporated. The dough will be stiff, with a few dry spots. If needed, add the remaining 1⁄3 cup (77 g) yogurt and pulse to incorporate. Transfer the dough to a large bowl, cover, and chill for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 450˚F (230˚C, or gas mark 8) and place a cookie sheet on the center rack to preheat at the same time.

Tear a large piece of parchment paper the size of your cookie sheet. Lay it out flat and sprinkle lightly with gluten-free flour. Turn your dough out onto the parchment paper and sprinkle the top lightly with more flour so your fingers don’t stick.

Pat the dough out into a 1-inch (2.5 cm) rectangle, cut in half, and stack one half onto the other. Repeat five or six times, patting the final rectangle to ½ to ¾ inch (1.3 to 2 cm) tall.

Cut the rectangle into several small pieces (about 12 to 16). Space them out as much as you can over the piece of parchment paper. Using a peel or another baking sheet, carefully transfer the parchment paper onto the preheated cookie sheet. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the biscuits have turned golden.

These keep for up to 2 days if wrapped loosely in a dish towel, but taste best if eaten the same day.

Yield: 12-16 biscuits | Prep time: 45 minutes | Cooking time: 20-25 minutes

4.  The giveaway!

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This giveaway is open to the U.S. and Canada. To win your own copy of this book, simply post a comment by midnight Pacific time on Monday, June 17th, 2013 (please make sure to leave some sort of way I can get in touch with you), and I’ll draw a random winner.

Congratulations, Diana!  Your name was drawn to win a copy of Kathy Hester’s The Great Vegan Bean Book.