The Belgian Beer Fest Breadsticks

by A.J. Coltrane

Breadsticks for the recent Belgian Beer Fest, somewhat overexposed:

160201 bread sticks

The Formula (I made 3 batches):  400 grams all-purpose flour, 240 grams cool water (60%), 10 grams kosher salt (2.5%), 8 grams olive oil (2%), 1/4 tsp instant yeast.

  1.  Mix on low speed 10 minutes. Transfer to an oil-coated bowl, lightly coat the dough with oil. Cover. Refrigerate 1-3 days. (I put these in the fridge on Thursday night and pulled them out of the refrigerator at 5 am for an 11 am departure time. I had some time left over, but that’s better than transporting them hot and steamy.)
  2.   Remove from the refrigerator and allow to warm up for 1.5 – 2 hours. (I then slept in until 7 am.)
  3.   Lightly oil the counter if needed to prevent sticking, then pat the dough out to a 12″ wide by 8″ tall rectangle. The dough will be close to 3/8″ thick.
  4.   Sprinkle your “enhancements” onto the rectangle. I used a little bit of all of:  Himalayan Pink Salt, Sea Salt, Cracked Black Pepper, and Semolina. Parmesan would work. So would sesame seeds. Or herbs. Tons of possibilities.
  5.   Use a pizza cutter to cut into 8 pieces, top to bottom, about 1-1/2″ wide. Each piece is now 1-1/2″ x 8″.   OR:
  6.   Use a pizza cutter to cut into 1″ wide pieces.  Each piece will be 1″ x 8″.
  7.   Twist each piece and place on a Silpat lined sheet tray. When I did mine the pieces “grew” another 3-4 inches, making them almost as long as the 13″ width of the sheet tray.
  8.   Cover with a towel and let rest 1 hour.

The thicker doughs were baked at 425F for 22 minutes.  The thinner doughs were baked at 450F for 17 minutes.

The breadsticks came out crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. The twisting meant that all of the “enhancement” ingredients were mixed through the dough; it made the breadsticks more interesting and added crunch (semolina) to the interior. It also gave the breadsticks natural “breaking” points. I think I liked the skinny ones a little bit better, but that could have just been personal preference.

Overall it’s an easy, versatile recipe. Using the refrigerator for a slow rise means that the dough can be mixed up to 3 days ahead — the dough will wait. If the breadsticks are being served with dinner cut the salt back to ~2% — the 2.5% salt was intended to stand up to the bold flavors of the beer and help cleanse the palate.


A Low-Oil Focaccia

by A.J. Coltrane

A low-oil focaccia to go with stew:

151227 focaccia

I think it’s still technically a focaccia, with oil in the dough and oil on top.

The formula:  400 g bread flour, 280 g water (70%), 12 g olive oil (3%), 10 g kosher salt (2.5%), 1 tsp instant yeast. Mix at low speed for 2 minutes, then next-to-low speed for 10 minutes. Let rest one hour, then stretch and fold. Move the dough to a parchment-lined and oiled pan, gently stretching the dough to the edges of the pan. Cover and let rest until almost doubled. Top with oil and dimple the surface. Bake at 425F for 20 minutes.

The rise was better than usual, partly because of the lowish oil content, and also because I did a stretch and fold on the dough after an hour, before moving it to the focaccia pan.

It’s a good bread for soaking up stew, whether it’s a focaccia or something else again.


Pictured is the boy cat in a basket that was to be loaded with bread for transport. Behind him is the “mobile cutting board”. Room temperature butter is balanced on the back left corner of the basket:

151227 boy cat

He had other ideas.

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!