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Posts Tagged 'french'

That Other San Francisco Bread

Dutch Crunch RollWhen you mention bread and San Francisco everyone says sourdough. It’s become so associated with San Francisco that no one thinks you can make it anywhere else. You can actually. Sourdough can be made anywhere in the world, but unless it’s made in San Francisco it doesn’t have the correct culture in it that gives it that taste.

A funny thing happened to me today. Wife asked me about a certain type of bread that our daughter now loves. She asked me, what makes the crunch on a Dutch Crunch roll? I never had them before I came here. Well that sparked me to search for the history of the Dutch Crunch Roll after looking up what made the crunch [note: it’s a very loose rice flour yeast dough].

As it turns out the bread was originally made in the Netherlands where it is called Tijgerbrood or Tiger Bread. Apparently someone at the Galli Sanitary Bakery made and sold some back in 1909 and called it Dutch Crunch Bread and that was the end of it until around the 60’s or 70’s when the now defunct Parisian Bakery started to make Dutch Crunch Rolls. For some strange reason then never ventured outside of the Bay Area and barely left San Francisco, but having to take the back seat to sourdough bread left a lot of people not having any idea that you could only find it in the Bay Area.

I remember starting to get it  around the 80’s so it even took time for the locals to know what it was. I had gone to get a sandwich somewhere and they asked if I wanted it on sourdough or Dutch Crunch. Me being the purist type that I am and thinking that sourdough with anything other than butter is a bit of heresy said, Dutch Crunch. There really isn’t that much special about a Dutch Crunch Roll at first. It’s like white bread in a roll with a crunchy topping and that is really the ultimate simplicity of it that makes it so wonderful for sandwiches.

When you make a sandwich on sliced white bread your fingers compress it into something makes the whole sandwich feel like deli meat wrapped in dough. It’s not a very good sandwich feeling. To this day I can only eat peanut butter and jelly or Bologna and American Cheese on white bread [the more overly processed the better]. If you’re using a sourdough or French roll for a sandwich there are all those big nooks and crannies that everyone likes that really suck if you like mustard or mayo on a sandwich. Enter the Dutch Crunch Roll — it’s white bread — in a roll. It doesn’t turn back to dough when you squeeze it because of the crunchy topping and doesn’t give you pockets to fill with mustard and/or mayo to explode into your mouth or squirt out on your shirt. It is the perfect vehicle for meat and cheese and anything else you put on your sandwich.

I’m sure I could find an architect who could give a dissertation on the construction of the roll extolling the virtues of the hard, crunchy exoskeleton of the roll properly supports the soft, spongy interior that both cradles and grips onto the sandwich ingredients to keep them from fighting their way out of the bread as you eat your sandwich, but I think I’ve done good enough in my last few sentences. While you can make a Dutch Crunch Roll anywhere in the world, for some reason no one’s ever thought of it outside of San Francisco and the Netherlands [though I hear the U.K. is giving it a go now.]

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Cast Iron Cookoff, Part 2

It puts the eggs in the panA few of you might remember my article from back in April about me finding my Great-Grandmother’s cast iron pan that I reconditioned and brought back to life. Well, finally I got around to using it and here’s what happened.

Just to bring you all back up to speed. I’ve never used cast iron cookware before other than in the Boy Scouts which, well that was never really cooking, but more tossing meat on heated metal until it was safe to eat. We never took proper care of the pans because they were cast iron. In actuality we treated them a lot worse than you’re supposed to, but because they’re cast iron they held up. Since getting married, Wife and I have had non-stick pots and pans. Wife doesn’t really like non-stick and I didn’t really know any better. Luckily Wife didn’t like the idea of me cooking in pan that was made back in 1903 [maybe she though it would turn us into zombies or something] so I got the pan and the kitchen all to myself.

The pan, because it’s really old has a certain quality to it. If you go to a store and rub your fingers over the bottom of a cast iron pan it’s a little rough. This one because of the way they used to make them was smooth and I mean silky smooth. I had re-seasoned the pan and had it all ready to use. Turned the heat on medium and let it warm up with a beat 3 eggs with a couple of teaspoons of water [this is called French eggs I was told by a friend of mine]. I tossed a bit of butter in the pan and swirled it around before tossing the eggs in and once I added the eggs the magic happened.

small amount of sticking, but it easily scraped away

Non-stick pans become, well, sticky after awhile and the true test is whether or not you can cook a liquified high protein material like eggs without it sticking. Cheese is another good one, but I like to eat eggs more than a fried handful of cheese. Our scrambled eggs from a non-stick pan always looked awful. They bound together in clumps and were nothing like the omelets I used to be able to toss out when Wife and I were first married. Well I quickly noticed a difference.

The eggs didn’t stick at all. As a matter of fact I would have had to work hard to break them up as after a minute I noticed the eggs had set and were actually cooking a bit too quickly. Next time I’m going to try a medium low heat. I tried to break the egg mass up, but it stayed together so I tossed a handful of cheese in the center to add more difficulty to the test. The edges flipped over nicely and effortlessly to give me in the end an omelet when I was just trying to make scrambled eggs.

The taste? Awesome. Wife and I liked to go out for breakfast and I have to say that these were better than what we got when we went out, easier to make than the scrambled glop and the clean up was pretty easy as well.

The finished productAfter all the omelet had left the pan I let it sit while I ate. I came back and the pan had cooled a bit, but was still pretty warm. I ran some hot water in the pan, no soap then hand dried the pan and put it back on the stove and heated it up to get rid of any left over moisture. After about five minutes I took a napkin and put some corn oil on it and rubbed it all over the pan and let it finish cooling. Cast iron is kind of like a car. You have to wax it and several thin coats of wax is better than one thick coat. After it was completely cooled down I picked it up and put it away.

While my execution could have been better, it was my first time with cast iron and I really didn’t know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked and I’m definitely going to be on the lookout for a smaller one in the future. To duplicate my recipe you just do the following:

3 eggs
1 teaspoon of water per egg
pinch of kosher salt
dash of pepper
beat it like hell with a wisk.

Today food in San Francisco is all about gourmet, artisan, etc. words that are usually tossed around more to raise the price than improve the taste. I do have to say though that while it’s a little more work to take care of a cast iron pan it sure beats having to replace it ever couple of years to get the same results. You also don’t have any toxic fumes from the non-stick coating to deal with and you get the addition of iron to your diet. I suspect this pan will just get better and better over time and I hope it keeps getting handed down throughout my family for many years to come.

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San Francisco Bread

IMG_2691It’s the weekend and I’m going to move a bit off my regular topics, but just a bit. San Francisco has been known for it’s bread, specifically sourdough bread all made possible by Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis which is found here and no where else. Sourdough bread was a pretty good marketing technique as the original bakers didn’t have nice packets of yeast sitting around like we do today [you did know that right?] They used a bit of dough from yesterday’s bread which would after awhile attract the L. sanfranciscensis bacteria which would give San Francisco bread it’s classic sourdough taste.

Now not all bread here is sourdough, but we’re best known for it. I’ve been becoming a little more cost conscious lately, especially when I noticed a loaf of bread was selling for close to $4. As my friend Al Cabal keeps reminding me, food prices are going up. This is true and I’ve been looking for ways around that which means spending more time in the kitchen or shopping outside of San Francisco.

My Mom bought a bread maker years ago which I was the only one who ever used it a few times and then it ended up sitting on a shelf. I happen to like bread and I especially like it when it’s homemade. I started doing so research since bread from a machine just doesn’t taste the same as hand made bread unless you live on white bread.

There is a function on the machine which it doesn’t bake the bread, but warms it just a little during the dough making process and then stops and lets you take over. I decided to give it a shot and I have to say that I’ve been pretty impressed with the results. You just have to add the ingredients and turn it on then pull the container out when the dough’s ready, form it and let it sit through it’s final rise then pop it in the oven.

Now here in San Francisco French bread and Italian bread are used pretty much interchangeably so I decided to do a little search to see if there really was a difference. It turns out that French bread is pretty much flour, water and yeast while Italian bread adds salt, sugar and [usually] olive oil. Me, being the good Italian boy with an Austrian last name chose to go the Italian route. It doesn’t take much work at all and in the end I end up having home made bread that costs me about 50¢ per week.

Here’s the recipe that I’m not going to put in a very web friendly way so that you have to read the entire article to find it. To start off with pour a cup and a half of hot water [not boiling] into your bread machine then add two tablespoons of  olive oil, one tablespoon of packed brown sugar [light or dark], two teaspoons of salt. Then on top of this add four cups of unbleached white flour and on top of this add two and a quarter teaspoons of yeast. Turn on the machine in the dough cycle and wait about an hour and a half. You can adjust the quantities slightly as you see fit after you’ve followed the recipe once.

After it’s done you have to form the loaf which I won’t go into because that’s where my secret to making the extra perfect loaf has come from and put it aside to rise the second time for about 45 minutes. Pop it into a 375° oven for about a half hour or so and you’ll have two loaves of really nice bread. You can add slits to the top before cooking and brush the top with a beaten egg and tablespoon of water which only makes your bread look more finished in my opinion. Don’t worry too much if your loaf doesn’t look perfect, it’ll still be very edible and it’ll get better as you keep doing it.

Now that I’ve gotten into the weekly routine I try a few things to change things up. Maybe I’ll brush olive oil on while it rises the second time or just wait and brush on a tablespoon of cornstarch and water. It all depends on what you’re trying to do and there is an odd sort of spiritual experience to taking the raw ingredients and transforming them which most people don’t have an experience with today. My daughter likes to help me form the loaves and she’s getting pretty good at it and she also approves of it because she’s run when you’re not looking and grab the loaves fresh out of the oven and start to chow down on them if I’m not looking.

If you’ve got a bread machine lying around I encourage you to pull it out and give it a try. If you don’t the salvation army has them for sale used very cheap. It’s not much of a hassle and you’ll love the end result while saving some money. My Mom always told me I needed to learn how to cook because no one will cook as good as her and when she wasn’t around anymore I’d be on my own. I think that was a mixture of an Italian and Jewish mother thrown at me just give me a double helping of gilt and work ethic. It’s done a good job for me so far and saves us lots of money.

Garlic Fries…HOME RUN!

Dan Gordon of Gordon-Biersch invented garlic fries when he was studying in Germany. Sadly though when he came back to the US and opened up the first Gordon-Biersch restaurant with Dean Biersch it wasn’t in San Francisco, but in Palo Alto. Garlic fries though didn’t get much attention until they opened up their San Francisco restaurant and started selling them at AT&T Park and that was the day that baseball and garlic fries got married together.

Everyone has garlic fries now and it’s no wonder because they’re so easy to make. It’s a 3-2-1 recipe that even an idiot can make. Take 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of chopped garlic and 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley whip it all together and toss it on some freshly deep fried potato bits. Gilroy who hosts it’s own garlic festival sells them as well, but they from what I’ve heard bake, not deep fry the potatoes.

Nothing is as good in it’s greasy goodness as a deep fried strip of potato. Crispy and crunchy on the outside and moist and tender on the inside. When you add the oil, garlic and parsley to it, it just becomes even better. It wasn’t until the late 90’s that garlic fries made an introduction onto the San Francisco food scene and they made an instant hit. I don’t get to eat them too often because when I do I tend to eat too many and my wife banishes me to the other room for a three days because I tend to reek of garlic. It is a fate that is understandably worth it for me since I happen to love garlic and will add it to just about anything. The secret to adding the garlic to the fries is a wide bowl with the fries in it then you toss in the mixture then you have to learn that special one hand flick of the wrist that tosses them up and over, like you see a professional chef flip an omelette. It takes a bit of practice, but you don’t want to stir them around because then you break up the fries. The flick/flip does the job much better.

I do remember in the 80’s there was a shop at Ghiradelli Square called Pomme Frites that sold french fries with a variety of dipping sauces, many of them based off the Belgian tradition of mayonnaise on fries [don’t knock it until you’ve tried it], but there was no garlic in any of their sauce blends. It seems odd to me since now it just seems like such an obvious addition to add to the fries.

I have a small deep fryer that I’ll probably use to test my own riff on this dish. The trick supposedly in making the best fries to fry them twice and starting with russet potatoes that you’ve skinned and soaked in cold water for one to eight hours before cutting them into 1/4″ strips. First at a low temperature of 325° to oil cook them, then drain and flash fry them at a higher temperature of 375° to sear the outsides while keeping the insides moist and crispy. The sizzle when they hit the oil is actually the water inside the potatoes coming out of the fries so if you’ve cooked them to the point they stopped sizzling the water is out and the oil gets sucked in through reverse osmosis and those are some bad greasy fries.

I’m glad to see that San Francisco isn’t resting on it’s laurels with rice-a-roni, sourdough bread and dungeness crab. I’m glad that we can come up with a few new traditions in food that we can claim as ours and that change the world around us. Hell, even Trader Joe’s sells them now, but they’re still no comparison to the original.