Saturday, November 21, 2009

close to magic

Whew! Is it just me, or does time go by faster and faster every year? (Maybe i'm getting old.) It seems we were just vacationing in Cape Cod and eating tomato salad, but judging by the endless stream of Christmas tunes on the radio and the sparkle of twinkle lights all over the city, the holiday season--with its familiar sights and smells and sounds--is fully upon us.

This time of year always makes me think about God, or the absence of God. I haven't yet decided, and maybe never will. One thing i do believe in, and think about a lot during the holidays, is nature--the changing of seasons, the perfect balance of the universe. In these hard times, it can be challenging to stay faithful to anything, whether it's God, nature or whatever higher power you may believe in. I find cooking keeps me sane, or happy, in any case. And nothing restores my faith in nature more than making yeast bread.

Have you tried baking with yeast? A lot of people are intimidated by it, because it seems finicky and demanding (after all, yeast is a living organism). But once you get started, it's really simple to work with, and the results are truly worth it. And it's as close to magic you'll ever get in the kitchen.

These caramelized onion rolls (from the Pioneer Woman again) are easy, delicious and make your home smell like a bakery. You start with a simple, almost-no-knead yeast dough, fold in some chopped fresh herbs (I used oregano) and caramelized onions and garlic, shape into rounds and bake. Delicious!

Caramelized Onion and Oregano Rolls
adapted from the Pioneer Woman

1 Tbs. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced

1-1/2 cups warm water
3 tsp. active dry yeast
1 Tbs. sugar
3 Tbs. olive oil

3 cups bread flour (I used all-purpose and it turned out fine)
2 tsp. kosher salt
freshly chopped herbs to taste (I used oregano; PW uses rosemary)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Saute sliced onions and minced garlic in olive oil over medium heat until brown and caramelized, about 10 min. Cool.

Pour warm water in a bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top. Add sugar and olive oil, then stir gently with a fork until combined. Set aside.

Combine flour and salt in a separate bowl.

Alternately add flour mixture, onions and herbs to yeast mixture, stirring gently until dough is combined. (It'll be sticky.)

Generously flour a flat surface. Knead dough 15 to 20 times, adding flour generously to make it easier to handle. (Keep it sticky, though!) Drizzle olive oil in a separate bowl and add the ball of dough, turning to coat. Cover with a tea towel and place in a warm spot to rise for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Divide dough into eight portions and form a round from each piece. Place on baking sheet and allow to rise for 20 min. Bake for 20 min. or until brown. About 5 min. before the bread is done, brush with butter and sprinkle with grated Parmesan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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