Anna Blume (Berlin): A Towering Brunch

Brunch,” I was told my first day in town, “is big in Berlin.”

Having just come from New York, a city where weekend brunch is practically a religion, I almost snorted, wondering how different or striking this meal could possibly be in Berlin.

As my host led me down the cobblestoned streets of the city’s fashionable Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood, however, I quickly realized my folly …

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Anadama Bread: A Very Good Place To Start


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Among the lessons I've learned while baking bread, this, I suppose, could have been the most predictable: Baking bread is not like riding a bicycle. If you haven't done it in a long time, well, don't count on being able to do it again.

I won't go into it, but there exists a recent valiant attempt at making multigrain bread extraordinaire, which many bakers in the Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge had pronounced a breeze. In my Brooklyn kitchen, however, this turned out to be anything but. And the end result was a flat dense brick that was as saggy in the center as it was dry and mealy.

"You're out of practice," the husband noted. (Which earned him extra dishwashing duties but — I had to admit — was not untrue.)

How to solve the problem? An old Julie Andrews song instantly came to mind.

Perhaps, I thought, it might help to go back and start at the very beginning …

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Portuguese Sweet Bread: True Crack Bread


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There has been no small amount of grumbling in this household recently.

The complaints are rather monotonous — they all go something like this: What happened to the bread baking?

It is true that not too very long ago, there had been great ambition on this front. The idea had been to make a bread every week along with dozens of bakers around the world in a quest to bake our way through The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.

But then, of course, life intervenes. (In my case, that would be the months spent traveling for research and then writing The Book.)

Gradually, my smoke-filled kitchen (thank you, ciabatta) and bygone bagels were becoming faded adventures in our memory.

During a break in the hubbub, however, I decided this nonsense had gone on long enough. The bread-baking bible was dusted off and my trusty KitchenAid mixer was resuscitated.

On the docket was a bread I’d been curious about: Portuguese sweet bread, a type of loaf, lovely, soft and sweet, that’s popular in Hawaii and New England. (It was introduced to those regions by Portuguese immigrants.)

Now, in the times that I’d tried it, it had always reminded me of the slightly sweet buns and loaves I grew up eating in Hong Kong and Singapore. It was time to see how this recipe would turn out in my own kitchen …

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Poilane Miche: Tackling A Legend


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As usual, I had bread on my mind the moment I returned to New York from my latest trip to Singapore.

After weeks away from my oven, I always touch down just itching to bake something. And this time, a quick check with my fellow Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge bakers revealed that they were mired in a difficult spot in the bread lineup.

“We are in Sourdough right now,” said Daniel in Berlin (a.k.a. @MisterRios of the Ährelich Gesagt blog). “Everyone is tRYEing their best.”

Ahh, bread humor. Gotta love it.

After the laughter subsided, however, I started to get worried. Sourdough in the hands of lesser bakers can be a massive pain in the tush. 

I should know.

Just last month, bolstered by a successful pane Siciliano and wondering what to do with a bowl of sourdough starter, I brazenly decided to take on a legend: Poilane miche — the Holy Grail of breads.

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Top 10: The Memorable Eats Of 2009


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You know it’s been a good year when you are able to say this: 2009 was when I began to eat for a living.

I’d always been a devotee of affairs of the stomach. I may have written about fashion and other lifestyle areas for a living but baking, braising, trying new recipes, eating out — those were what consumed me when weekends rolled around. 

Luck has its ways of finding you, however. Now, on the precipice of 2010, I’m beginning to close out a lunar calendar year of cooking and eating with my family in Singapore as research for my book, “A Tiger In The Kitchen.” 

My journey so far has taken me many places – France, where I had the loveliest gingery champagne cocktail with friends old and dear; China, where my father and I went in search of my great-grandfather’s footprints in the village of his birth. And, of course, Singapore, where my aunties and maternal grandmother have been plying me with meals, recipes and much, much love along the way.

With all that I’ve packed into 2009, it’s hard to decide what the highlights have been. But, inspired by some stellar Top 10 gastronomic lists out there (definitely check out Sam Sifton’s list of Top 11 dishes in New York in the New York Times), I decided to give it a go.

Here, in no particular order, are my 10 memorable eats of 2009. 

Enjoy, buon appetito and listen, let’s do this again in 2010 …

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Panettone: The Seven-Day Bread


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If you are among the people who believe that nothing says “The Holidays” like a festive loaf of panettone, let me just say this: You are mad.

This bread, it is evil.

It will drive you insane, make you tear your hair out. You may find yourself repeatedly staring intently at an unrising bowl of taupe glop, thinking, “Just, why, God, WHY?”

I mean this for the folks out there attempting to bake it, that is. (If you’re the sort who buys panettone in a store then, sure, go for it. I’m sure that’s pretty harmless.)

The problem I had here was holiday spirit.

Recently, I found myself so infused with the stuff that I decided to tackle panettone for the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge

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Pane Siciliano: One Sexy Bread


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The same thing always happens when I’ve been on my weeks-long trips for book research in Singapore.

When I’m away, I find myself overcome with intense longing for something in my Brooklyn home. By the time I return, it’s all I can do to keep myself from running toward it (cue slow-motion romantic comedy music here) and getting it all hot and, well, hot.

My family home in Singapore doesn’t have an oven, you see — so when I’m away from my trusty hunk of stainless steel, a major itch to bake starts taking over.

When I returned this time, I was determined to jump back into the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge, where bakers around the world are making a bread each week from Peter Reinhart’s “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.”

On the docket that week was pane Siciliano, a beautiful, golden Italian bread formed in a voluptuous “S” shape.

It seemed like just the thing to scratch my itch.

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Light Wheat Bread: Simple Does It


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The last time I baked a bread, what emerged from the oven was a loaf of casatiello, a gorgeous hunk of Italian bread studded with salami and oozing with hot cheese.

So you might understand why I wasn’t exactly looking forward to this week’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge loaf: Light wheat bread.

After the sexy Italian, wheat bread seemed like the yawner of a boy next door.

(You know — the ugly one.)

But after having spent several weeks in Singapore without an oven at my disposal, I was itching to bake something. Anything.

And, as it turned out, this plain boy next door actually had his surprises.

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Casatiello: A Marvel of Meat & Melted Cheese


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In my family’s Singapore kitchen this week, my mother carefully brought out a prized discovery from her fridge, nudging me to try it.

Inside the box was a lovingly swaddled loaf of bread, filled with slivers of ham and dappled with bits of melted and crusty cheese. A friend had given it to her and my mother had decided it was the best bread she’d ever tasted.

“Hey, I think I recently made something like this,” I said. 

“You DID?” came her incredulous response. 

Her disbelief was completely understandable — I rarely set foot in the kitchen as a child. And when I finally did start cooking in my 20s, I was initially more known for inedible cheesecakes than Julia Child creations.

As for baking bread, it’s something that seemed so difficult that I never considered trying it until I joined the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge in May. But baking a bread every week along with more than 200 bakers around the world has been a surprisingly empowering and therapeutic thing.

In a piece that I wrote for the Washington Post Food section about the proliferation of online cooking and baking groups, Jeff of Culinary Disasters talks about learning to be patient from baking bread for the challenge. Wendy of Pink Stripes says she’s become such a brave cook that she’s applied that confidence outside of the kitchen, too. (Wendy, who had always wanted to learn to scuba dive, took the plunge in December.)

As for me, I’ve learned gobs — about time management, the need for enough sleep, the importance of simply trying. Above all, through the exhilarating successes and occasional clouds of smoke, I’ve grown increasingly sure of one thing: If you set your mind to doing something — even if it seems impossible — you’re going to be able to do it. (And, if you’re lucky like I’ve been, you’ll have the fist-bumps of fellow bakers, pushing you along the way.)

And that’s intoxicating knowledge to have.

So, yes, Mum, I really did make casatiello, an Italian bread filled with cured meat and melted cheese that tastes just divine. And it was actually pretty simple …

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Focaccia: Where There’s Smoke …


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This is a story that has a happy ending.

(See above.)

What happened before that ending, however, was not quite so happy.

There was the steady stream of smoke spewing from the oven; there was the coughing. And then there was the glowering from Mike (who was doing the coughing). 

But there was a lesson learned while making focaccia for the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge this week:

Don’t be so greedy — use less olive oil.

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