Pho is too hard to make. Let’s bake some bread

The crab season started in San Francisco and last night our neighbor invited us for a crab-fest in his house!  Yeeeey!  The crab-fest slowly morphed into a wine-fest…  unfortunately with easily predictable outcome … severe dehydration…  Don’t worry, we are not 21 anymore!  We have our tricks, and by 10 this morning, we felt and looked like new!  The secret is in Vietnamese Pho!  Oh, it’s the best cure!!!! 

You think that would be the today’s recipe, but NO!  I cannot manage to make a dissent broth!  I just cannot!  I tried so many recipes online but none taste good enough.  The problem is – we are serious about our pho.  We traveled to Vietnam to eat Pho.  We tried it in every town and neighborhood we visited. Our favorite bowl could be found somewhere in the Old Quarter of Hanoi .  Our favorite US equivalent resides in Tenderloin (well, Little Saigon) of San Francisco, and it’s called Turtle Tower.  If you are ever in town, and if you are not afraid of… you know.. sketchy neighborhoods – it’s the place to enjoy. 

Here are some photos from our trip:




Anyways, even a night of… crab-fest-ing didn’t stop me from doing hot yoga tonight.  And oh… what a delight! Hence, I’m still on the right track to fulfilling my vein ambitions. The session even managed to suppress this Russian mom’s appetite for a not-so-light-dinner she started before the class! I was quite satisfied with a grapefruit and some raw veggies.  This yoga stuff is incredible!

Well, because of all this hard work, I deserve a reward: my family’s favorite bread!

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1 Recipe of the Basic Country dough

1 tsp coriander

25 g molasses

1/2 cup of walnuts, slightly crashed

1/2 cup of raisins


Soak the raisins in 1 cup of hot water for about 15-20 minutes, drain

Prepare the dough according to the basic country dough instructions until the point where salt and water are added.  Add salt, coriander, and instead of water add 25 g of molasses as well as the walnuts and raisins.

Incorporate the ingredients by squeezing them with your fingers into the dough.

Follow the directions of the Basic Country dough for proving, and shaping.  Once you shape a loaf and ready to place it into the proofing basket, pat the loaf with a wet hand.  Sprinkle it with some crashed walnuts, and place the loaf into the basket on a floured towel.

Follow the basic country bread instructions on the final rise and baking.


Headbump and Bread

My Holiday picture struggles are officially over.  Poor Lil’ Jem fell down today and got a huge bump on his forehead.  Horrifically not photogenic! So, I’ll have to stop chasing my kids with the camera and start working with the photos I already have … This gives me more time for recipe sharing.

Today’s recipe is Basic Country Bread.  It takes a long time to make a good loaf of bread.  I feel like it takes even longer to write about it, but I gotta tell you: this Russian mom cooks bread, and that’s what she is famous for.  If you ever want to impress anyone with a unique item on the table – this bread will do marvelously well.

My bread bible is Chad Roberson’s Tartine.  He describes the bread baking process like no one I ever read.  To my huge discredit, I live only 10 minutes away from his famous bakery and never set a foot in there.  They say he bakes bread only in the evenings, and sells it out completely within 2-3 hours.  My husband made an effort to impress me with a fresh Tartine loaf once, but got scared of the line.  Chad’s instructions didn’t quite work for me (largely because I have no experience with very moist dough), so I modified them a little. Nevertheless, I still highly recommend his book!

Don’t get mistaken – even though it’s made with a starter, it doesn’t taste anything like those famous San Francisco sourdough loafs.  The end result is sweet, rich, mature taste that you will love!

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Day 1

  • 1 tbs mature starter
  • 100 g water
  • 50 g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 50 g whole wheat flour

Day 2

  • 100 g leaven
  • 350 g water
  • 500 g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 50 g whole wheat flour
  • 25 g water
  • 10 g salt
  • Sesame seeds to sprinkle the loaf
  • Rice flour for dusting



Day 1 (I usually do this in the evening, so that the leaven prepares overnight)

Mix the first two ingredients so that the starter almost dissolves in the water. Add the flour and mix well. Place in a glass container (big enough for the mixture to expand twice its size), cover with plastic and a lid. Let the leaven ferment for 8-10 hrs. It will start bubbling. The leaven is ready when it passes a float test – if a spoon of leaven floats in a glass of lukewarm water.

Day 2

After leaven is ready, pour 350 g of water into a large mixing bowl. Add 100 g of leaven and mix it with the water. Don’t worry if it’s not completely dissolved. Add the flour and mix well (I use Kitchen Aid Mixer, but it’s possible to mix it by hand with a wooden spoon –the dough is really moist).

Once the flour is incorporated, cover the bowl with a plastic wrap, and let rest for about 25-30 min.

After the rest, add salt and 25 g of water, mix well. The dough will break at first, but will get smooth again.

Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 3-4 hrs. Turn the dough carefully 3 times during the first two hours with a wet hand going from bottom to top.

After the rising is done, dump the dough in a lightly floured surface and, working with a dough scraper, fold it into a ball. Cover with plastic and a towel and let rest for another 30 min.

After 30 min the dough will flatten somewhat. Turn it around carefully and, using your hands fold it into a loaf like an envelope. Starting with the end closest to you, grab it with both hands, stretch it gently towards yourself, and fold to the top, pressing the end into the top portion of the dough. Stretch the right side carefully and fold it towards the left end, pressing the edge into the dough. Repeat with the right side. Fold the same way from top to bottom.

Turn the loaf around, helping yourself with the scraper. And carefully shape it with your hands into a round loaf by pushing the edges underneath the loaf and spinning it on the table.

Slightly moist your hands with water and pat the loaf. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Place a towel into a proofing basket or a deep bowl. Slightly sprinkle it with rice flour.

Using the scraper, lift the loaf and put it on the sprinkled towel, seeded side down, seam up.

Cover with the edges of the towel, put the basket into a bag and refrigerate for 8-20 hrs.

Day 3

Place a pizza stone and a Dutch oven with a lid into the oven and preheat to 500 F.

After the oven is hot, quickly remove the Dutch oven, and carefully dump the loaf into it, so that the seam falls on the bottom, and the seeded side is on the top. Score the top of the loaf with a bread knife. Immediately cover with the lid, and place in the oven.

Lower the oven temperature to 475 F and bake for 20 min.

After 20 min remove the lid, and lower oven temperature to 450 F.

Bake for 10 more min. After 10 min, quickly remove the loaf from the Dutch Oven and place it on the pizza stone. Let bake another 15 min.

By now the fresh bread aroma is taking over your house!

Remove the loaf from the oven and place it on the rack to cool


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