Jeffrey Hamelman’s Sesame Bread Sticks, Mostly

by A.J. Coltrane

They’re only “mostly” Jeffrey Hamelman’s Sesame Bread Sticks because I didn’t have malt syrup in the house, so I substituted honey.

Up close:

151222 bread stick 2

The (scaled) Recipe:  240 g bread flour, 134 g water (56% hydration), 14 g extra virgin olive oil (6%), 7 g honey (3%), 5 g kosher salt (2%). I used 3/4 tsp instant yeast. There are a couple of slight rounding errors, but the percentages are very close to the original formula.

The Process:  Mix all ingredients except the sesame seeds on low speed for 3 minutes, then raise the speed one notch and mix another 5 minutes. Let rest one hour. Portion the dough into “1.33 oz” (~37 gram) pieces and roll each out to 14-16 inches in length. Roll each piece in a moistened cloth, then roll in a tray of sesame seeds to coat. (I wound up with 10 pieces from the 406 gram recipe.)

Bake at 380F for 20 minutes. If at that point the breadsticks aren’t brown and totally crispy, return to the oven at 350F until completely baked.

151222 bread stick

For me, “crispy” took another 10 minutes at 350F. I think that happened because I’d only rolled the breadsticks out to around 12-14″ — I’m guessing they were a little thicker than they were supposed to be.

As for the color:  The photographs make the breadsticks look a bit lighter than they came out in reality. Using malt would have created a darker end product. Sticking with 380F for longer than 20 minutes might have helped too.

Overall the recipe (in Hamelman’s book “Bread”) is very clear and concise. Right now I’m leaning towards continuing with “Bread” as my main resource for a while.

Rick Bayless’ Corn Tortillas

by A.J. Coltrane

Periodically I decide I want to make tortillas from scratch. The results tend to be uneven, probably because I’m only trying it periodically.

150112 press

Tonight’s came out better than usual and were less hassle. I think there are two reasons for that — I didn’t make them as wet as usual, and I didn’t squeeze the tortilla press super hard. The drier, thicker tortillas separated from the plastic much more easily than in previous attempts.

I used a sandwich-size freezer bag. The thicker plastic seemed to help as well.

150112 tortilla

Cast iron skillets really hold the heat and lead to good color on the tortillas. (These are all 5-6″ in diameter.)

Combined with slow-cooker pork shoulder, cheese, and salsa:

150112 finished

Very tasty!

Bonus hunter pic:

141221 hunter

The toy is a Cat Dancer. The girl cat completely loses her mind. (Link for reference. Shop around.)

(Recipe link. Amazon link for the source recipe in Mexico One Plate At A Time.)

The First Pass At Crispy Breadsticks

by A.J. Coltrane

Crispy Breadsticks:

Ingredient Measure Baker’s %
Bread Flour 300g
Water 180g 60
Salt 7g 2.3
Instant Yeast ¼ tsp
Olive Oil 12g 4

1.  Mix all ingredients at low speed for 10 minutes.

2.  Let rise overnight.  (This was intended for an overnight rise on the kitchen counter. It rose too quickly for that, so after 6 hours it got a light workout and went into the refrigerator to hang out until after work the next day.)

3.  Roll out the dough into a loose square about 1/4″ thick.

4.  Cut long thin strips with a pizza cutter or dough scraper. Twist the strips and place on a Silpat lined sheet tray.

5.  Bake 1 hour at 300F, turning halfway through.

6.  I sprinkled these with parmesan after they came out of the oven. It wasn’t sticking well, so I put the sheet tray back into the oven for 3-5 minutes, which sort of helped.

7.  Cool on a wire rack.


This recipe is an aggregate of a few online recipes, combined with the overnight rise idea for better flavor. (This one was one of the big jumping off points, pictured below.)

141120 breadstick

The result wasn’t as brown as the picture, but the taste and texture were good. I’d guess the fact that I baked two sheet trays at the same time contributed to the light color. Also, they could have been 20% crunchier to be closer to what I’d visualized — both issues possibly sharing the same root cause.

All in all though, a good start, a tasty result, and a very easy recipe.

Pot Luck Focaccia

by A.J. Coltrane

Another variation on a high hydration focaccia, using this one as a jumping off point.

The goal this time was to make a focaccia that could stand on its own at a potluck. As compared to the linked (non-assertive) bread, this one features more salt, more oil, and the addition of rosemary to the top.

All I had in the house was AP flour. I would have preferred Bread Flour for this one, but I wasn’t going to make a trip to the store for it.

The recipe:

Ingredient Measure Baker’s %
AP Flour 500 g
Water 500 g 100
Salt 12 g 2.5
EV Olive Oil 30 g 6
Instant Yeast 1.5 tsp


1.  Combine all ingredients in a mixer and combine on low speed for 10 minutes. Lightly oil a parchment lined sheet tray.

2.  Let the dough rest for 20 minutes, then pour it into the sheet tray, gently coaxing the dough towards the edges of the pan. Cover and let rest 2 hours. Chop rosemary.

3.  Preheat oven to 425F.

4.  When the oven is hot, drizzle a small amount of oil on the dough. Sprinkle chopped rosemary on top.

5.  Bake for 15 minutes, turn the tray 180 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes.

If it’s a two-hour dough I’m always suspicious of the ability of the finished product to be interesting on it’s own. That’s not enough time for good stuff to happen, chemically speaking. On this variation I turned to the “volume knobs” of oil and salt — the oil was increased from 4% to 6%, and the salt was increased from 2% (the “standard”), up to 2.5% of the weight of the flour. The small amount of additional salt helps the bread stand up to other big flavors.

140828 focaccia

Something I ran into with both of these high-hydration doughs was that the raw doughs couldn’t support the weight of a drizzle of oil. This may be because the house was 80F+ on both attempts. Each time the top of the dough was saturated with tiny delicate bubbles. Spreading the oil around on the surfaces was out of the question. I wound up drizzling a thin stream of oil, which looks like little canals or “breaks” on the finished focaccia.

A close up:

140828 focaccia close up

(Rushed 5 a.m. photography. Not terrible, considering.)

What I think I learned:

1.   100% hydration doughs might not be the best idea when the house is over 80 degrees. Something like 75-80% hydration would have been “safer” way to go.

2.   The dough was basically a batter. The finished bread likely would have benefited from a pan smaller than a sheet tray. As it was, the edges were pretty thin, which could have led to uneven baking.

3.   When I initially pulled the bread out of the oven it was fairly pasty looking. At the risk of drying out the bread, I popped it back in for 4 minutes — that’s what gave it a better color.

Fortunately all of that worked out, though I had my doubts.

I think it’s time to steer back towards “sane hydration” land for a while.

Another Simple (3 Hour) Focaccia

by A.J. Coltrane

Served at this tomato tasting. Most recent Rosemary Focaccia here.

I’ve gradually been dialing back the amount of oil that I’ve been putting into focaccias…

Background:  When I started making focaccia I always measured the oil by volume. At some point I decided that seemed like a silly way to do it — if I already had the scale out, why dirty another measuring cup? My starting point for “oil by weight” was 10%+, as well as a pretty generous dose on top. The link above uses 8% oil. The focaccia below used only 4% with a very, very light drizzle of oil on top.

To go even further off track for a moment — I’m intending to do a post about how different bread types are related to each other based upon their contents. The thing is, I’m not entirely sure anymore what exactly I’m “making”. I have a starting idea, but that’s about it. Though I guess it really doesn’t matter so long as it tastes good.

The bread below uses 100% hydration — the weight of the water is equal to the weight of the flour. That’s among the highest hydration doughs that I’ve posted. This Berenbaum recipe used 113% hydration, but that’s (I think) the highest hydration dough I’ve done (and it uses 9% oil).

I was hoping to achieve a relatively spongy texture — lots and lots of little, fairly uniform holes. The ingredients:

Ingredient Measure Baker’s %
Bread Flour 520 g
Water 520 g 100
Salt 11 g 2
Olive Oil 20 g 4
Instant Yeast 1.5 tsp


1.  Combine all ingredients in a mixer and combine on low speed for 12 minutes. Lightly oil a parchment lined sheet tray.

2.  Let the dough rest for 20 minutes, then pour it into the sheet tray, gently coaxing the dough towards the edges of the pan. Cover and let rest 1.5 hours.

3.  Preheat oven to 425F.

4.  When the oven is hot, drizzle a small amount of oil on top of the dough.

5.  Bake for 15 minutes, turn the tray 180 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes.

That’s it. It’s seriously simple. The only “trick” is make sure that all of the flour incorporates into the dough — it will tend to want to stay on the sides of the mixing bowl. I used a spatula to scrape down the sides a couple of times during the mixing, then aggressively combined the remaining raw flour after removing the bowl from the mixer.140818 focaccia

Postmortem:  I feel like this one came out about as well as it could have for a 3-hour dough. Using bread flour rather than AP flour was (I believe) the right choice. Adding toppings (salt, herbs, or onion) might have made it more interesting, but the object was to complement the tomato tasting, and in that respect it was basically what I had targeted.

Multiple thumbs up.


By Iron Chef Leftovers

Those who love me know of my man-crush on Alton Brown. Not only is he responsible igniting my interest in the science of food, he made the single best cooking show ever with Good Eats. I had the pleasure of meeting him several times over the years and he is a genuinely sincere and funny guy.

AB recently launched a web series that is a short bunch of how-to videos, like how to hard cook an egg in an oven (really useful if you need to cook a couple dozen eggs at once). His latest is how to make cat-poo flavored dog treats. I will admit, I am intrigued and am considering making them to try them out on friends’ dogs. The video is below and the link to the recipe is here. The bonus is that he shoots the short with his own dog, Sparky, guest-starring and calls the cat box the “stinky cheese shop.”

Classic Buttermilk Waffles

By Iron Chef Leftovers

I don’t normally do breakfast, but when I do, I tend to gravitate more toward pancakes and French toast. On occasion, I will get a waffle, but generally it is something I may eat once a year. On a recent trip back to the Iron Chef homeland, my mom purchased a waffle iron. Well, she needed a recipe; I knew a good one from Cooks Illustrated, so here you go:

The secret to great waffles is a thick batter, so don’t expect to pour this one. Make toaster waffles out of leftover batter—undercook the waffles a bit, cool them on a wire rack, wrap them in plastic wrap and freeze. Pop them into the toaster for a quick breakfast.

The Software

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 7/8 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

The Recipe

1. Heat waffle iron. Whisk dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Whisk yolk with buttermilk and butter.

2. Beat egg white until it just holds a 2-inch peak.

3. Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients in a thin steady stream while gently mixing with a rubber spatula; be careful not to add liquid faster than you can incorporate it. Toward end of mixing, use a folding motion to incorporate ingredients; gently fold egg white into batter.

4. Spread appropriate amount of batter onto waffle iron. Following manufacturer’s instructions, cook waffle until golden brown, 2 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately. (You can keep waffles warm on a wire rack in a 200-degree oven for up to 5 minutes.)


That is it. Serve with syrup, butter, whipped cream, fruit, fried chicken or whatever you like.


A Quick And Simple Cracker Recipe

by A.J. Coltrane

For future reference and before the notes evaporate — the cracker recipe for Iron Chef Leftovers’ big dinner party.

These crackers were served with three cheeses and three chocolates selected by ICL. I wanted to go for a cracker that would have good initial crispness but would have a small amount of chewiness as well. They also needed to taste good on their own but not compete with the cheese and chocolate. I think that overall the crackers fulfilled those goals.

This particular recipe is an amalgam of a bunch of different recipes that I looked through online. I ended up choosing this Alton Brown recipe as a loose template, though they’re still very different:

Ingredient This Recipe Alton Brown
AP Flour 8 oz 4-3/4 oz
Wheat Flour 1-1/2 oz 5 oz
Semolina Flour ½ oz
Table Salt 1-1/2 tsp
Kosher Salt 1-1/2 tsp
Aluminum Free Baking Powder 1-1/2 tsp 1-1/2 tsp
Olive Oil 3 TBP 3 TBP
Water 6 oz 6-1/2 oz
Poppy Seeds 1/3 cup
Sesame Seeds 1/3 cup

Instructions –

1. Knead until the dough *just* comes together and the flour is incorporated. (AB calls for kneading “4-5 times”.) Do NOT knead any further — the goal is develop as little gluten as possible. (More gluten = a chewy cracker, and not in a good way.)

2.  Rest 15 minutes. (So that the flour has a chance to hydrate.) Preheat oven to 450 F.

3.  Cut off 1/8 of the dough. Lightly dust the back of a sheet tray with semolina flour. Roll out the dough as thin as you can. Poke the dough all over with a fork. (So that it doesn’t puff up very much when baked.) Using a pizza wheel, cut the dough into cracker-sized pieces.

4.  Bake for 6 minutes on the first side. Rotate the pan and flip the crackers over. (Work quickly.) Bake 4-6 minutes on the 2nd side. Spread the crackers on a cooling rack to cool. Note that they’ll get crispier as they cool.

When we did these we used three sheet trays — one would be baking on the first side, one would be baking on the 2nd side, and one we’d vigorously wave around to cool it off, then prep the next dough to go into the oven.


Don’t overwork the dough.

Roll it out super duper thin.

Keep practicing. The recipe makes many batches. By the time you’re on the 5th batch some things will start making more sense and you’ll likely have an “aha!” moment. And then you’ll be done.

Even the less than ideal ones will still taste good.

Feel free to add sesame seeds or poppy seeds or cheese or coarse salt or spices or whatever to make them more interesting. Lightly sprinkle the “topping” over the dough when it’s rolled out and pat it in a little bit. Again, these crackers were intended to be complimentary and not try to hog attention from ICL’s dinner, they’d be somewhat “plain” as-is if eaten solo.

Have fun!

AB’s Quick and Easy Pasta Dough

By Iron Chef Leftovers

Homemade pasta is one of those things that is insanely easy (with the right recipe) and will impress the crap out of your guests if you make it. It also comes in handy because you can make it with a few ingredients you have at home. I have made pasta completely by hand and it is hard work – mixing and kneading the dough and rolling it out. Taste-wise it is outstanding, but time wise, it isn’t worth it. A few years back, Alton Brown came out with a recipe that significantly cuts back on the time – all of the mixing is done in a food processor. It takes about 3 minutes to make the dough with this process, so you could actually make fresh pasta for a Tuesday night dinner rather than a special occasion.


The Software

10 oz. All Purpose Flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

3 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon olive oil


The Recipe

In the bowl of the food processor combine the salt and flour and pulse for 2 seconds to combine. In a measuring cup, combine all of the remaining ingredients and beat lightly. Turn on the food processor and slowly stream the liquid into the bowl, until all of the liquid is incorporated or the dough just begins to pull away from the side of the mixer bowl. If you have used all of the liquid, slowly stream in 1 tablespoon of water at a time until dough is ready (It should feel slightly tacky, but not wet or sticky). Remove from the bowl, give it about 10 seconds of kneading to bring it together and wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours (the longer you refrigerate, the easier it is to work with).



It is hard to describe exactly what the dough should feel like, so you will probably have to experiment a bit with it. Sometimes you need to add a tablespoon or two of additional water, other times you will not end up using all of your liquid, so there is really no exact way to do this. Some fun additions to pasta – a couple of tablespoons of minced spinach or stinging nettles (just make sure you remove as much water as possible), fresh herbs, lemon zest and pepper or hot pepper flakes. Just add them in with the flour salt and pulse to combine.

Beranbaum — The Bread Bible. Rosemary Focaccia Sheet

by A.J. Coltrane

Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Rosemary Focaccia Sheet from The Bread Bible. To quote:

This intriguing dough presents an apparent contradiction: it is incredibly light yet moist and satisfyingly chewy. Consider the percentage of water in this dough! In relation to the flour, it has 113.5 percent water, making it the highest percentage of any dough in this book. [ed:  most doughs generally run 60-70 percent water as a percentage of the flour weight.] Who would have thought it even possible to make a dough this wet and still produce bread? And that is the secret of its incredible texture. The exceptionally high amount of water keeps the gluten in the flour from breaking down during the very long beating process. This enables the dough to develop into long stretchy strands that hold the air and give a chewy texture. It will remain a soupy batter until toward the very end the twenty-minute beating, when it suddenly metamorphoses into a shiny, smooth, incredibly elastic dough.

I adapted this recipe from my favorite neighborhood bakery, the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City…

So yeah, that’s some great pedigree. I had four hours before I needed to be out the door, instead of the five hours called for the recipe, so I goosed the yeast a little and figured I’d sacrifice a bit of the flavor associated with the rising time — the bread was getting rosemary and a healthy amount of salt and olive oil anyway, so it seemed like a reasonable tradeoff.

The recipe (notes are in italics)

390 g AP Flour

3/8 tsp instant yeast (I increased this to 3/4 tsp)

442 g warm water

3/4 tsp each sugar and salt

36 g extra virgin olive oil

2 tsp rosemary, fresh

1/4 tsp sea salt or fleur de sel

Sheet pan

1. Mix the dough. In the mixer bowl, with the paddle attachment on low speed (#2 Kitchenaid), combine the flour and yeast. With the mixer running, gradually add the water, mixing just until the dough comes together, about 3 minutes. It will be very soupy. Increase the speed to medium (#4 Kitchenaid) and beat until the dough is transformed into a smooth, shiny ball, about 20 minutes. (This never happened, or at least it hadn’t after almost 30 minutes. It just stayed soupy. I wound up adding about 1/2 cup+ of flour so that the dough would cooperate. It was a humid day, which may have effected it somewhat. I added a tiny amount of salt and sugar to compensate for the added flour — otherwise it might have tasted “flat”.)

Add the sugar and salt and beat until they are well incorporated, about 3 minutes.

This went on for too long.
This went on for too long.

2. Let the dough rise. Lightly oil a bowl, cover and let rise for about four hours. (I did this directly in the Kitchenaid bowl. With the greater quantity of yeast that I used, this only took about 90 minutes.)

3. Shape the dough and let it rise. Coat the sheet pan with a heaping tablespoon of the olive oil. Pour the dough onto it. Spread the dough as thin as possible without tearing it.  Let it rest 10 minutes, then stretch again. Cover the pan and let rise until doubled 1-1/2 to 2 hours. (I used another sheet pan upside down as a cover. Mine was ready after about 60 minutes. Typically I use parchment paper to make “unmolding” easier. As it turned out, this dough decided to completely cement itself to the tray. The unmolding was a hassle.)

4. Preheat the oven. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F for 1 hour before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place a baking stone or baking sheet on it before preheating. (Maybe I’m just too cheap… I let it preheat 30 minutes. I can’t believe that the oven will retain *that* much more heat if I let it go for an hour. I used a baking stone.)

5. Sprinkle on toppings and bake. Uncover the dough and drizzle on the remaining olive oil. With oiled or wet fingertips deeply dimple the dough. Sprinkle evenly with the rosemary and salt. Place the pan directly on the hot stone or sheet tray and bake 12-13 minutes or until top is golden. Remove from oven and drizzle on a little extra olive oil if desired. (Mine was done at closer to 15 minutes.)

052313 focaccia

Other than resolutely sticking to the pan, it was a nice bread. I wouldn’t call the texture “incredible” like Beranbaum does, but for a fairly fast bread it was better than serviceable.  The crust had a light chew to it. The crumb had an almost spongy, open texture, similar in appearance to the structure of a luffa. (Appetising, I know — I mean that in a nice way.) The hole size was very consistent throughout. (It really sucked up Iron Chef Leftovers’ terrific pig sauce.)

One reason I chose to try this bread, as close to the recipe as I had time for, was the 20 minute mixing time and super high hydration. Both of those parameters were well outside of what I make usually make. Normally I would try to minimize the oxidizing of the dough by not mixing for that long, but for this bread, it worked. I can see making this one again, though I’m sure the Kitchenaid won’t dig having to run  for that long if I choose to make multiple breads for a crowd.

For a crowd, though, the Go To potato onion focaccia recipe is here.