Pain au raisin – raisin bread

I love making bread. This time it came out really nice and I am so glad.

I started making bread when I lived in India as it was hard to find bread aside from sliced toast, and of course, as every one, I made Naan and other Indian breads at home. But I wanted the feel of a baguette, still my favourite breakfast with salted butter and homemade jam. So I started making my own bread. It took some time and some calibrating depending on if it was monsoon season or not. Actually during the monsoon, the bread came out almost perfect since the humidity and the heat greatly helped make the dough rise and the bread always came out soft on the inside and with a deliciously crispy crust.

IMG_8043

Since I moved to Mexico I have had trouble making bread. It either came out too dry, or the dough did not rise, or something or the other went wrong. I thought it may be the yeast. So the last time I was in Paris I bought several boxes of baker’s yeast and… it seems  that this time it worked or maybe it was just that I did something right!

Here a nice and easy recipe that anyone can do. You do not need a kneading machine, or a bread machine, or any kind of machine. As with most everything I cook, I use my hands and kneading becomes a meditation experience.

I have included all the stages commonly associated with bread-making (le pétrissage, la levée, le façonnage et la cuisson) and a few tips. I hope it will convince you to try.

Stage zero: getting the ingredients ready
1- In a small bowl mix one cup of tepid water with one envelope of rising baker’s yeast. Mix with a spoon until the yeast is completely diluted. Set aside.
2- In a larger bowl place three cups of flour (white or whole or mixed – you can vary the kind of flour and adjust as you see fit) and one teaspoon of sea salt (gros sel). Mix well by hand letting the flour and the salt run through your fingers (the salt can have a contrary effect on the yeast so make sure the salt is mixed thoroughly with the flour). Add one tablespoon of olive oil and mix again by hand.

Stage one: Le pétrissage – kneading
1- In the larger bowl, slowly add the cup of tepid water and knead the dough as you go along. Bring the knead from the sides to the middle gently for at least 10 minutes.
2- Then start kneading inside the bowl. Make sure you insert pockets of air as you work the dough so that it may rise faster. Knead for at least 15 minutes. (If you feel it is too dry, add a little bit of water. If you feel it is too wet, just add a bit of flour.)

IMG_8003

Stage two: La levée – raising
1- Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a bowl covered with a cotton clothe made humid with warm water. Place it in a warm place in the kitchen, the higher the temperature the better. (I generally place it under a lamp, it works.)
2- Leave the dough to rise for at least an hour. It should double in volume.

IMG_8010

Stage three: Le façonnage – shaping
1- After one hour, knead the dough on a floured surface making sure you create air pockets as you knead. The best way is simply to fold the dough.
2- At this point start adding the raisins (or other dry ingredients) a little at the time and keep folding the dough.
3- Arrange the dough in the shape you desire: baguette, little baguettes, round shaped, etc.
4- With a sharp knife, make some indentations on the top of the dough.
5- Let it rest for another 30 minutes to an hour.

IMG_8016

Stage four: La cuisson – baking
1- At least 15 minutes before you start baking the bread, heat up the oven to 250º C. Place a deep baking dish filled with water at the bottom of the oven . This will insure that the air in the oven is not too dry.
2- Place the dough in the oven and bake for 10 minutes at 250º c. (You may want to splash a little bit of water at the bottom of the oven to create some steam just before you insert the dough for baking.)
3- Then lower the temperature to 210º c. and continue baking the bread for 15 minutes.
4- Finally, lower the temperature to 190º c. and let it bake for 5 to 10 minutes. This last stage is important as it will enable the bread to remain soft on the inside with a nice and crispy crust.
5- Once out of the oven, let it cool on a rack. It is important so that the bread does not “sweat.”

IMG_8021

Enjoy immediately with salty butter or any way you want. 

A ginger story

“I am an urban creature, born in a city,” Rabindranath Tagore said about himself. And yet, he composed some of the most stirring poems about nature and gardens and love.

“Your smile, my love, like the smell of a strange flower,
is simple and inexplicable.” – Tagore

If I may be so bold as to paraphrase him, I happen to also be an “urban creature;” perhaps the reason why I am so humbled when I manage to grow anything; and in this case, ginger.

I planted a small piece of ginger root about four years ago in a large pot with good soil, and since, it has been giving, most generously, long leaves while extending its roots.

IMG_7931

I remain at awe when I take out the roots and gently place them under running water. The pink and white shades of the ginger slowly emerge and release a most enchanting fragrance.

IMG_7949

Discovering ginger…

I actually discovered fresh ginger root rather late. It was when I started to do some “real” cooking while a graduate student in New York City. Before that, I had only known the dried powder variety most common in stores in Paris, where I grew up. At home, it was only used when making Moroccan food and only the dry powder. I had never seen a ginger root before that.

I discovered it with Asian food, especially Japanese. The first time I ventured into eating the raw ginger that is served along with sashimi, it seemed that a new wonderland of taste had opened up. Years later, when I lived in India it had become a constant in the kitchen. In New Delhi, I bought it regularly from an toothless perpetually smiling gentleman who sat on the ground with mounts of ginger and lime. He always added some extra roots for me…

So good for you…

According to Ayurveda principles, ginger stimulates the digestive system and thus helps in cleansing the system of “ama.” “Ama” is food residues that go undigested and can harm your health when it builds up. Ginger is a great remedy in case of constipation, and it also helps reduce inflammation and the effects of nausea. It is a traditional remedy for morning sickness for pregnant women in many parts of Asia.

How to…

On the technical side, ginger can be grown outdoors as well as indoors. It should receive plenty of light. In winter, the plant tends to slow down while the roots are still growing gently inside the soil. The plant should be brought indoors if the temperature drops below 10º c. In this case, I just leave it on a table in the kitchen next to the window so that it may get some natural light. It does fine.

I harvest the roots every three months or so, and then replant a small root with a stem attached in the same pot.

IMG_7921

Recipes…

Many recipes in fig & lemon contain ginger, and not just recipes inspired from Asia. If you put “ginger” in the search square provided on the right hand side of the screen, you will get more than 50 recipes.

img_0850

Of course it goes very well with any fish dish such as tuna with honey and ginger, wild salmon with rosemary and ginger, or Mediterranean fish. You may also want to try it with rose petals such as this recipe for sardines with ginger, mango and rose petals.

IMG_7315

It can also be added to chicken, as this delicious Thai chicken cooked gently in the oven with ginger, lemon and honey; as well as with meat, as with this Persian ground beef cooked with the spice mix Adviyeh.

And of course, almost all Indian dishes contain ginger such as the soothing Sattvic Dahl, destined to bring you tranquility of the mind; along with chutneys, such as this delicious mango chutney.

IMG_0537

Eaten raw it is also delicious. It can be sprinkled on salads or a soothing fruit platter. The latter is wonderful if you decide to go on a 24 hour fruit only diet, one thing you may try doing from time to time to cleanse and re-caliber your digestive system. I do so regularly, especially after a long trip when inevitably one’s digestive system gets slightly confused.

IMG_6525

Oh and I almost forgot. It is a delight when added to soups, especially carrot soup. It goes very well with sweet potato or any gourd soup for that matter, such as pumpkin or squash.

IMG_5908

A wonderful way to cleanse your system is also what I called feel good tea,  not a very original name but it is exactly what it does. I make it regularly when I feel off center physically or mentally! It helps balance out your system and it is most soothing. You need not be off center to drink it though…

Flower in a strange land…

Ginger is a constant now in the kitchen and I am grateful I was able to harvest some fresh roots this morning. It is a resilient plant and its roots grow very fast. Try and plant some. If I, as an “urban creature” can do it, I am sure anyone can.

“An unknown flower in a strange land
speaks to the poet:
‘Are we not of the same soil, my lover? ‘” – Tagore.

As urban creatures, are we not indeed?