Monday, January 31, 2011

Candied Clementines with Ricotta--Your Patience Will Be Rewarded

I have had this recipe for a few years. I tore it out from a magazine, but unfortunately there is no name of the publisher, so I cannot give credit to anyone. I suspect that it comes from a Mediterranean tradition as the recipe calls for ricotta and some candied fruits. I have been planning to make this dessert for a long time, but only having this blog mobilized me to do it. Citrus fruits are now at season's peak and it is a good time to share some recipes for them.

Last week I bought a box of beautiful Spanish clementines, which prompted me finally to try this recipe. I like orange peel and often add it to many cakes and desserts, but I could not imagine eating such a generous amount of it. The whole fruits are preserved in sugar, then they are peeled off and stuffed with cheese filling. But do not expect to enjoy this dessert right away.

This is a very easy recipe, but it demands quite a bit of patience, because it takes a few minutes of your time for four to five days to prepare this dessert. Moreover, it tastes even better when it stays in a refrigerator for at least one night. Actually, it could stay there for at least one week and probably even longer, but I had no chance to check this, as at my home it did not last for too long.

It is a great dessert but if you are one of those people who dig out candied fruits from cakes and throw them out this dessert is definitely not for you.

I modified the original recipe somewhat. I used clementines instead of oranges, but I would think that minneolas would work even better. The original recipe called for the ricotta cheese only but I also added some leftover mascarpone to it and a tablespoon of Cointreau for an extra twist.

Candied Clementines with Ricotta

6-8 clementines, or 4 oranges,
1 and 2/3 cup sugar,
1 cup fresh ricotta,
1/2 cup mascarpone,
3/4 cup sugar,
1/3 cup chopped candied fruits (whatever you like) I used golden raisins and dried apricots,
1/3 cup chopped roasted pistachio nuts,
1 tbsp Cointreau liqueur,
1 tsp vanilla extract.

1. Wash the clementines thoroughly and, using a sharp knife, cut openings in the peel.
2. Place clementines in a pot, cover with cold water, bring to boil and strain afterwards.
3. Boil 1 cup of water with 1/3 cup of sugar for about 2 minutes. Turn the heat off and place clementines in this syrup. Set aside for 24 h.

4. Take the clementines out of the syrup, add another 1/3 cup of sugar, and bring to boil. Turn the heat off and add back the clementines. Set aside for another 24 h.
5. Repeat this procedure on the third and fourth day.
6. On the fifth day remove clementines from the syrup, place them on a cookie rack and let them dry for 4 hours.

7. Mix ricotta with mascarpone (if you use only ricotta, you will need 1 and 1/2 cup of it) and sugar. Add liqueur, vanilla extract, dried fruits, and pistachios. Mix everything gently.
8. Remove upper parts of clementines and carefully, remove the fruit pulp. Fill up the empty shells with the ricotta mixture. Let them chill overnight in a refrigerator. Decorate with pistachios and serve.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Polish Whole Wheat Bread--A Piece of Home

These days, quality food from every region of the world spreads fast across borders and oceans. You can get the same Starbucks coffee in Seattle and in London. In your local food store you can buy your favorite French wine, best Parmesan cheese, and green beans from Kenya. But I am sure that everyone of us who lives outside his or her country of origin misses some things that are not available anywhere else or just do not taste the same as they did back home.

If you ever find yourself among Poles when they get sentimental about their home food, no doubt it would be Polish bread for which they yearn most. No wonder, bread consumption in Poland is probably one of the highest in the world. A bread sandwich was what we took to school and our parents to work for lunch. Bread was also eaten for breakfast and supper, and only at dinners it ceded its prominent position to potatoes or dumplings. In past centuries, to express our hospitality, we welcomed our guests at the doorstep with bread and salt.

Polish bread is most similar to German or Russian bread, but it is still quite different than either of them. It is most often a rye or whole wheat bread, based on a starter dough which gives it a natural sourness. And, unlike white breads, it is still very good a couple of days later.

Making a true Polish bread takes time and experience. I am still experimenting with various versions of it trying to come as close as possible to the inimitable ideal. This variety, which I currently make often at my home, is reasonably satisfying. It is also an easy shortcut to what our bread is. It preserves well for up to three days, so usually I double the amount of the dough and bake two of them at once.

Polish Whole Wheat Bread

1 cup white bread flour,
2 cups whole wheat flour,
1 cup warm water,
1 cup natural yogurt at room temperature, you can use buttermilk instead, but then you need to add about 1 cup of flower,
1 sachet active fast rising dry yeasts (1 tbsp),
1 tbsp salt,
1/4 cup sunflower seeds,

1. In a large bowl (or a bowl that comes with a stand mixer) place flour, yeast, and salt, and mix gently with a wooden spoon.
2. Add both kinds of flour to the bowl, add warm water and mix it with the flour, and follow with yogurt.
3. Knead the dough with you hands or using the Kitchen Aid stand mixer with the dough hook attachment for about 5 minutes, until it turns into a a smooth ball. At the end, add half of the sunflower seeds and kneed the dough for another minute or two.
4. Transfer the dough to a loaf baking pan slightly greased with vegetable oil. Brush the top of the dough with cold water and cover with sunflower seeds. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and set it aside for 30 minutes, after which the dough should rise by a few inches.

5. Preheat oven to 370F and place in the baking form with the dough.
6. Bake for about 50 minutes.

Let the bread cool down before you cut it. Although there is a common opinion that warm bread is not good for your stomach, there is nothing better than an aromatic piece of warm bread with butter that melts faster than we are able to eat it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Layered Herring Salad--Not Only for a Snowy Day

It was supposed to be a different post and a different recipe, but a snow blizzard came and my plan had to change.

Let's say that you do not have the best of days and in fact it is one of those when nothing works or makes sense. And then comes the snow and makes everything even worse. It falls fast and freezes everything, including the electricity lines, which in my quaint neighborhood are not buried under the ground. So, obviously, after a couple of warnings with lights going on and off, just before midnight, you have a complete power outage.

You wake up in the morning in a cold room. No cup of freshly brewed coffee, which is a highlight of every morning. No warm pancakes for kids. Your internet connection is dead, which means no access to the blog, and soon enough your phone also dies. And no one knows how long this is going to last.

Having not much to do, I took a package of sad-looking herring fillets out of my rapidly defrosting refrigerator, laid them on the snow and started shooting photos. Herring salad was on my weekend menu, but I was forced to use them sooner.

But, suddenly, after "just" 10 hours power is back and the sun is up in the sky. What a beautiful day! All the problems dissolve in a cup of hot coffee. It turns out we do not need that much to be happy, and we discover that when the obvious, small things that we take for granted are taken away from us.

It was already too late to start making fresh bread for lunch. Instead I made a cold herring salad and took a slice of bread from the freezer. It is a simple salad, made of ingredients that are easily available all year around. One extra thing you really need is a glass dish for attractive presentation.

Layered Herring Salad

1 pack (12 oz) Matjes herring fillets in oil--about 6-8 fillets,
1 large onion,
3 beets roasted or cooked (canned can be used as a substitute),
3 medium carrots cooked,
3 hard boiled eggs,
1 cup mayonnaise,
1 cup chopped fresh parsley,
salt and pepper.

1. Drain herrings from oil, cut into small cubes, and lay on the bottom of a glass dish.
2. Chop onion and put on top of herrings.
3. Grate beets on a large hole grater and put on top of onion.
4. Grate carrots the same way as beets and put them on to of beets.
5. Cut eggs into small cubes and cover the beets. Salt and pepper them generously on top.
6. Cover the top (egg) layer with mayonnaise.
7. Make the last layer by covering mayonnaise with chopped parsley.

While serving this salad you must reach to the bottom of the dish, so the ingredients from all layers get scooped.

Mix gently all the layers on the plate and serve it with whole wheat bread, while looking through the windows at the beautiful winter scenery.

Enjoy the snow, electricity, and the herring salad!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Traditional Polish Beef Roulades--Foreign Guests' Favorites

This simple dish is a mainstay of Polish cuisine. Almost every reputable restaurant has it on its menu and every Polish hostess can make it, and often serves it for weekend dinners. Beef roulades are called "zrazy" in Polish and are made of onion, cucumber pickles, and strips of bacon wrapped in slices of beef. They are fried until brown all around and cooked in a sauce that is thickened with flour and cream and often spiced with dried porcini.

Whenever foreigners visiting Poland ask about the "must" of Polish cuisine, beef roulades are probably one of the first items to be named. If they are made properly and served with some of the special noodles, they are almost always very well-remembered by our foreign guests.

I heard that a similar dish is also known in German cuisine, but there is a difference in the preparation of the sauce and in the stuffing. We stuff our roulades with cucumbers pickled in brine rather than cornichons. I would not like to argue who makes better beef roulades but my German cousin-in-law claims that the Polish ones are the best.

Beef roulades can be served with potatoes or rice, but they taste absolutely best when they are accompanied by noodles or dumplings--yogurt dumplings, egg noodles, plain spaetzle, or traditional Polish smooth potato dumplings, which are featured in my previous post. Delicate dumplings and noodles bring out the savory flavor of the fried, almost dark brown, beef roulades.

As many red meats in Poland, they are traditionally served with red cabbage salad or beet salad. The advantage of this dish over many others is that beef roulades can be made at least a day ahead. When they are fully cooked, and stay overnight in their own sauce, they taste even better when you serve them reheated on the next day.

Beef Roulades
(Serves four)

8 slices round steak, about 1/2 inch thick,
8 strips smoked bacon,
one medium onion cut in 8 half-quarters,
2 cucumbers in brine, or baby dills,
8 pieces of European whole wheat bread (optional),
salt and pepper,
4 tbsp vegetable oil,
1 tsp flour,
1/2 cup sour cream.

1. Pound beef steaks until they are 1/8 inch thick, salt and pepper on both sides.
2. Place bacon, cucumber, and onion (and bread) on each piece of beef.

3. Roll up the beef slices and secure them with wooden toothpicks, or wrap them with threads.
4. Heat the oil in a deep frying pan and fry the beef roulades until brown on each side.
5. Cover with water and cook for 30-40 minutes, until the meat becomes soft.
6. Mix flour with sour cream, add a little bit of sauce from the pot and pour the whole mixture over the roulades. Let it all cook for another 20 minutes.

Serve with yogurt dumplings, smooth potato dumplings, or any kind of noodles.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Smooth Potato Dumplings--My Potato Crush

Two anecdotes come to my mind when I think about this dish. Not so long ago, at a party, I was having a conversation with a nice lady when the subject drifted toward food. "Oh, I love food" she declared at one moment. Since the conversation took a very interesting turn for me and could lead to an exchange of original recipes, I quickly admitted "I love food too". Then the lady looked at me with amusement "You love food? I love food!!!" she said exposing her curvy silhouette. "I have 20 cookbooks, I cook and I eat" she continued. "Well, I also have 20 cookbooks, I cook, and eat" I said "and I write a food blog". My last argument made her curious and she promised to check out my blog. Recently, again at a party, some hugged me and feeling my body asked "I know that you cook, but do you eat?"

These conversations were rather funny and flattering, since I cook and I really eat what I cook. And these potato dumplings are the best proof. I am probably going to sound totally uncivilized confessing that, but I usually eat about ten of them at once. I love their smoothness and a sort of gummy texture and absolutely cannot resist them, especially if they drip with dark and spicy sauces.

They are called Silesian dumplings and the recipe originally comes from Silesia. And since Silesia has been influenced by Czech, German, and Polish culinary traditions, I guess there must be different variations of them all over Central Europe. Beside their taste I also love how easy they are to make: only two ingredients are required.

Potato dumplings taste best with meat (veal or beef) sauces, and taste particularly well with beef roulades--this recipe will appear in the next post--and accompanied by side dishes made of beets or red cabbage.

Smooth Potato Dumplings
(Serves four)

2 lbs potatoes,
about a cup of potato starch (corn starch can be a substitute).

1. Cook peeled potatoes with salt, drain them, and cool completely.
2. Smash them into a puree using potato presser.
3. Transfer the puree onto a large cutting board or plate and form a flat disk.
4. Divide the disk into quarters, and remove one of them. Fill up the remaining empty quarter with potato starch--see picture.

5. Put all potatoes in a bowl together with starch and quickly make a dough.
6. Dust your hands with starch and form smalls balls by rolling the dough--about 2 inches in diameter, finishing each one with a small dot inside.

7. Boil water in a large pot with a tbsp of salt. Throw the dumplings in and cook them for about 3 minutes from the time they rise to the top.
8. Drain them on a colander and transfer to a serving platter.

Always serve with meat sauces.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Three Cheese Savory Phyllo Pie--Inspired by Gibanica

I have always been afraid to work with phyllo pastry. All the recipes I read seemed very complicated when it came to proper handling the sheets of phyllo dough, which has the tendency to dry too fast. Also, a lot of butter was used in each recipe, which discouraged me even more.

I am not a big fan of phyllo's crispness and ready-made phyllo dishes, like spanakopitas, look appetizing enough, to avoid the hassle of dealing with phyllo at home. But I still remember a dish that my friend made years ago which I liked very much, based on phyllo pastry and cheese. She served it on a spring day lunch with green salad and chilled white wine. And I still remember how good it was.

Then another friend made a similar savory pie, which again tasted very good. It was another version of the same dish and I learned that the original recipe came from Balkans, and the pie was called Gibanica.

Some time ago, when I found myself with a big container of accidentally bought ricotta cheese, I decided it was time to take up the challenge and finally make something with phyllo pastry. I combined some elements from both recipes I got and made a delicious pie filled with a smooth mixture of three cheeses. And although the original Gibanica is a vegetarian dish made with one type of Balkan cottage cheese, when I made if for the second time I added a couple of slices of smoked ham to the filling. It tasted really good.

Also working with phyllo turned out not difficult at all. After opening an original package I put the whole roll into a large Ziploc bag, which prevented it from drying while I was working with sheets. I used butter generously for greasing the baking form, but I did not put it between the layers of the phyllo dough (the cheese is fat enough already), and just put some butter flakes on top of the pie. The whole crust came out nice and crispy, it was not too dry or too greasy, and therefore the delicate taste of the pastry was very detectable.

Three Cheese Savory Phyllo Pie
(Serves six)

1 package phyllo pastry dough--you will need between 15-20 sheets,
3 cups ricotta cheese,
1 package--8 oz mascarpone cheese,
half a pound feta cheese, crumbled,
4 eggs, yolks separated from whites,
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg,
1/4 tsp salt,
freshly ground pepper.

1. Preheat oven to 370F.
2. Using stand or hand mixer with whisk attachments beat three cheeses together, and when they are already well combined add egg yolks one by one whisking continuously.
3. Beat whites until stiff and gently fold into the cheese mixture, season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
4. Grease the baking form (springform pan) with butter and spread about 10-15 sheets at the bottom and up the walls of the springform pan, with some overhang over the edges of the pan--see picture.

5. Fill the form with cheese filling and cover it with the remaining 5-10 phyllo sheets, gently wrinkling them and folding the overhang on the top (as if to package the cheese filling in phyllo dough).

6. Bake the pie for 50-60 minutes. When the upper phyllo becomes already dark gold but the pie does net yet rise, cover the top with a piece of aluminium foil.

Serve warm cut into triangles with green lettuce and tomato salad.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Beet Salad Again--And Why Not?

Especially that it is such a winter vegetable. Beets have been very "in" in the culinary world for quite a few years now. But in Polish cuisine they have been in for centuries. So when I see the best chefs in the world proudly throwing them over the green salads, I smile. I smile even more when I look at the price of such dishes on the menu of the most renowned restaurants.

In Poland, beet has always been a vegetable of the poor, a country food. They still are just one of the most basic, cheap, and popular ingredients of our cuisine. And one of the most beloved. No wonder that I can post several recipes featuring beets in a main role to popularize this wonderful and healthy vegetable.

Besides being used for soups (barszcz) and as a warm meat accompaniment, beets are most popular in salads. Although I love Belgian endive with beets, or green salads served with them, I prefer traditional salads that truly capture their taste and the intensive color. They can be eaten on their own or served with cold cuts or grilled meats.

This is a second from probably about ten salads that I have been serving at my house, always with a great success, and not only to my Polish friends. I make it from roasted beets rather than cooked beets. They are more healthy and tasty that way, but cooked or even marinated beets can be used as well, although in the latter case I would cut out lemon and vinegar, which are used in this recipe.

Beet Salad
(Serves 4-6)

4 medium roasted beets, cut first into slices and then into sticks,
2 tsp lemon juice,
2 tsp white wine vinegar,
1 garlic clove, minced,
2 tsp olive oil,
2 tsp sour cream or yogurt, preferably Greek,
2 tsp mustard,
2 tbsp mayonnaise,
freshly ground pepper,
1 tbsp freshly chopped dill (optional),
1/2 tsp salt.

1. Put the beet sticks in a large bowl and season with salt, lemon juice, vinegar, and sugar. Mix well gently and let them marinate for at least two hours or even overnight.

2. Make the sauce: in a small bowl mix mayonnaise, mustard, olive oil, cream or yogurt, garlic, and pepper.

3. Pour the sauce over the beets and mix gently. Let it stand aside for 30 minutes.
4. Season with dill and serve.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Warm Bacon Salad--An Import from Belgium

The common opinion has it that bacon is not good for you, but what is wrong with a little bit of bacon from time to time? Just a couple of slices added to any dish makes it more aromatic and tasty. Scrambled eggs become almost spicy when fried on bacon and many simple soups get a new flair when served with pancetta or hardwood smoked bacon. Also several noodle dishes, especially those made from potatoes--Polish specialty--become a real feast when served with fried bacon on top.

I got this recipe from a friend. The salad is called Liegeoise because it comes from the city of Liege in Belgium. I discovered several recipes for it on the internet and in various cookbooks but none of them was exactly as the one I had.

I followed almost precisely the recipe I got from my friend with the exception of how much bacon to put in. I added a little more of it than the recipe called for, but I used a very lean bacon, mindful of the caloric content. I happened to have white wine tarragon vinegar, which is the exact same vinegar that is used in this recipe. I made it myself, but you can also buy it in many grocery stores.

It is a perfect salad for this cold season, as it is supposed to be served with warm bacon. I really wanted to make it the other day. The same morning I also baked country bread and it was a wonderful addition to the salad, and very fulfilling combination of a hearty salad and freshly baked bread. It can make a comforting weekend lunch, especially if served with a glass of white wine.

Warm bacon and Grean Bean Salad
(Serves four)

1/2 pack of smoked lean bacon (about 3 oz) cut into small cubes,
1 large onion,
1/2 lb grean beans, can be frozen (I like to use extra fine green beans for this salad),
1 lb baby potatoes,
freshly ground pepper,
about 1 cup of tarragon vinegar, or white wine vinegar.

1. Cut potatoes in halves leaving the peel on, cook them in salted water until soft, drain.
2. Boil water and cook the beans for 3-8 minutes, just to the point when they are still a little bit crunchy (al dente). It will take less time for extra fine beans to cook and longer for the regular ones, drain.
3. Heat the frying pan and add the bacon. Fry the bacon first at high heat, and when most of the fat is melted, turn the heat down and add onion. Fry them all together until the onion becomes transparent and almost all the fat from the bacon is melted.
4. At that point you may take away some grease from the pan, or if the bacon was lean to start with leave it like that. Add some vinegar to the pan (just enough to cover the bacon). Let it boil on low heat for about 3 minutes to reduce the vinegar somewhat.
5. In a large bowl mix potatoes with beans, season with pepper, pour the hot vinegar sauce with bacon on top. Mix and serve.

Vegetables can be cooked ahead, and do not have to be hot, just in room temperature. Hot vinegar sauce will make this dish slightly warm.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Amaretto Almond Cake--A Snobbish Name for Polish Babka

The best babka, or a bundt cake, as it is called world wide, that I have veer had, was made by my grandmother. It was spongy, extremely moist, and aromatic. Most often she made a lemon babka, by adding lemon juice and grated lemon peel to the batter. Sometimes she made a rum babka with a chocolate swirl inside. They were as good two days later as on the first day, if only they could last so long.

Years ago, before the mixers era, my grandma was using a special wooden club and a special clay bowl to grind sugar, eggs, and butter together, until they turned into a very smooth mixture. She made them usually in winter, as a weekend treat, when not many fruits were available.

Unfortunately, although I was helping her often as a child, especially to lick the spatula, I have never taken down an exact recipe, and neither has any of her five daughters, including my mother. Grandma's secret for this amazing cake, will forever stay secret. So if you have a special family recipe that you love, please write it down, before it is too late. I keep asking all the good Polish cooks I know if they have a nice babka recipe. But almost all of them are very far from this perfect one I remember, mostly because they come out too dry.

But recently I got a recipe from a Polish lady who is a very cook and made it recently. First time I made it, the babka was very good, but I still would like it to be more moist. Then my mother reminded me that, although grandma used only best quality ingredients, she also added a little bit of cooking oil to her cake to lock in the moisture. I did it too and finally I got the cake that came close to what I had remembered. On my next try, I will probably make lemon babka, but for now please enjoy this almond version. I'm sure that this cake would also be excellent if you make it with hazelnut meal and Frangelico liqueur, for example.

Amaretto Almond Cake

2 sticks butter, soft
1 cup sugar,
1 tbsp vegetable oil,
4 eggs (separate yolks and whites) at room temperature,
1 and 1/4 cup almond meal,
2/3 cup flour,
2 tsp baking powder,
2 tbsp Amaretto di Saronno, or any other liqueur or Cognac,
a pinch of salt.

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Grease a bundt cake baking tin with butter and sprinkle with breadcrumbs--that will help to get the cake out.
3. Using a stand or hand mixer beat together butter and sugar for about 3-5 minutes, or until sugar almost dissolves.
4. Add egg yolks, one by one, still beating.
5. Mix in a bowl flour, almond meal, and baking powder, and add them to the batter.
6. When the batter is well mixed, add oil and liqueur.
7. Beat whites with salt until stiff and using spatula incorporate them gently into the almond batter.

8. Transfer the batter into the baking tin and bake it for 40-45 minutes.

Cool down the cake and dust with icing sugar or pour chocolate sauce on it. I prefer icing sugar, as it is more delicate, especially, if use chocolate for chocolate swirl babkas.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Smoked Salmon and Wine Linguine--A Leftover Idea

Sometimes, especially during such a socially busy time of the year, I find in my refrigerator unused leftovers from a dinner party and three different wine bottles with just a bit of wine in each of them. It must be a common dilemma what to do do with that--especially the wine leftovers--since some of the greatest culinary celebrities make entire TV programs on what to do with such remains.

Some advise just to drink it, which is always a good idea, others to use for marinating meat. Nigella Lawson advises to put the leftover wine in a Ziploc bag and freeze it for future use. I would not popularize this frugal idea, as I do not find the combination of wine and plastic, and frozen wine to it, too appealing.

Nevertheless, I still have in my refrigerator a couple of slices of smoked salmon and about a half glass of white wine. While browsing my recipe book for inspirations, I found a recipe for pasta, a friend of mine gave me years ago in Geneva. It calls almost exactly for my leftover ingredients, plus canned artichoke bottoms and fresh dill.

It so happens that I almost always have artichoke in my pantry, just in case, and I cannot live without dill. I buy a big bunch, chop it and freeze it in plastic containers. Dill helps digest food, and recently it has been discovered that it has rejuvenating properties and is being added to some, natural face creams. I am always happy to use it in a greater amount than the recipe calls for it.

Of course you can also open a bottle of wine to make that pasta and drink the rest with it, but doing it with leftover wine was a nice pretext to try this recipe, as pasta is one of my favorite foods.

Smoked Salmon and Wine Linguine
(Serves four)

3-4 slices of smoked salmon (about 1 cup)cut into strips,
14 oz can artichoke bottoms (artichoke hearts can also be also used after cutting out their fibrous parts) cut into strips,
1/4 cup dill, finely chopped,
1 cup heavy whipping cream,
juice from 1 lemon,
1/3 cup white wine,
3/4 pack linguine pasta,
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese,
salt and pepper.

1. In a saucepan mix together cream, wine, and lemon. Simmer it for about 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, cook pasta in a big pot and. when al dente, drain on a colander.
2. Add salmon to the cream sauce, artichokes, dill, salt and pepper, and heat it all up for about 2 minutes.
4. Pour the sauce over the hot pasta, shred some Parmesan on top, and serve.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Wheat Rolls--Straight from the Oven

If I lived in Paris or even in Warsaw I would not even bother. I would just go down the street and buy it. But because I live in Washington DC, whenever I crave warm bread straight from the oven, I need to bake it. Yes, I can buy baguettes in my neighborhood's upscale stores, such as Balducci's or Marvelous Market, but they are not exactly what I have in mind when I recall the baguettes I used to buy in some places in Europe.

Actually, it was not in Paris, but in Geneva, where I ate the best baguettes ever--always gold and crispy on the outside, and fluffy and incredibly white inside. You could buy them warm, also on weekends. My apologies to all the French readers who may stumble upon this post, but during my last visit to Paris I spent 30 minutes on Saturday morning standing at a lovely boulangerie in Marais, to buy famous French bread--precisely a baguette--and have never been more disappointed. Unfortunately, this was not the only culinary disappointment that I experienced during that trip.

I come from a family of bakers--my grandfather owned a bakery before WWII and later he continued to work in a state-owned bakery. Therefore, appreciation for good bread runs in my blood and I eat quite a lot of it. I used to make bread in Poland, and I still experiment with different recipes here. Years ago, when I first came to the US, I bought a bread machine and made wonderful rye bread that once got even high reviews from my Italian friends, but recently, I bake bread directly in the oven, because I find the bread made in the machine too soft and lacking the crispy crust, which I like very much.

I still have not been able to make a perfect baguette. One of my French friends maintains that the secret of the baguette lies in the quality of the flour it is made of, and the best quality flour is not commonly available outside France. Having that in mind, I decided to make rolls of whole wheat flour and not be disappointed that they are not as perfect as they should be. Still, when I ate them warm, just with butter, they were exactly what I was looking for.

Wheat Rolls
(Makes 12-16 rolls)

2 and 1/2 cups flour,
1 cup whole wheat flour,
1 and 1/2 cup warm water,
3 tbsp oil,
2 tsp yeast,
1 tbsp salt.
2 tbsp oatmeal or sesame seeds.

1. Put all the ingredients in a stand mixer and using the dough hook attachment let it run for about 5 minutes. You can also make the dough just with hands, and knead it until the dough is smooth.
2. Take small pieces of dough, roll in hand and place on a cookie sheet tin.
3. Cover with plastic foil and let it rise for an hour.
4. Preheat oven to 375 F.
5. Remove the foil and sprinkle the rolls with sesame seeds or oatmeal.
6. Bake for 20-30 minutes.

Let the rolls cool down a little bit before you eat them, but they taste best when they are still slightly warm. You can make a large batch and freeze some of them for later.