Category Archives: sandwich

Sourdough-risen Sandwich Bread

Does anything look homier than homemade bread?

My first, My last, My all the times in between

This is the first recipe I made with my (primary) sourdough starter. It’s the recipe I lean on when I don’t have any other bread ambitions, like bagels or naan or challah. It’s the recipe for the loaf in the banner, and the only recipe featured on the #1 google hit for “sourdough starter recipe” (a page originally written in 1997 by S. John Ross that has apparently attracted so many questions over the years that he eventually declared it a “closed topic” and ends every sourdough question in the FAQ with “A friendly reminder: Sourdough is a closed email topic.”) John Lennon's 70th birthday edition screenshot

It’s the recipe I think of as the most “basic” bread in my repertoire, even though I rarely make it “as is.” Most of the time, I use a cup or two of whole wheat flour, melted butter for the fat, 2 T. honey for the sugar, and depending on what I have on hand, 1/2 cup rolled oats, about 1/4 cup flax meal, and/or 1/4 cup sunflower seeds for extra flavor and texture. That makes a mildly sweet and nutty honey-oat bread that’s perfect for sopping up runny egg yolks or classic PB&Js (my favorite is sunflower butter + apricot preserves) or basically anything else you ever use wheat bread for.

another classic: deli turkey and tomato with Hellmann's and romaine

Variations

The recipe is also a great base for all kinds of other additions—for sundried tomato bread, use about 1/4 cup finely minced sundried tomatoes; if using oil-packed tomatoes, reserve the oil when you drain them and substitute that for the oil or butter in the dough or soak the tomatoes in boiling water for 15 minutes or more and then use the soaking liquid for some of the water. You could also add some chopped fresh herbs, a few tablespoons of pesto or tomato paste, diced up pepperoni or salami, and/or 1/2 cup finely shredded cheddar or gruyere. You can also add any combination of dried fruits and nuts. I especially like finely diced figs and toasted almond slices (about 1/2 cup of each per loaf) with just a little extra sugar than normal (about 1/3 cup per loaf). For cinnamon-swirl bread, shape the dough by rolling it into an 8” x 18” rectangle and then sprinkle it with 1/3 cup brown sugar mixed with 3 t. ground cinnamon and 1/4 cup raisins (if desired), leaving a 1/2” border all around. Roll the rectangle up jelly-roll style starting with one of the short ends, pinch the edges to seal, and bake it seam-side-down in a loaf pan. You can also do that with any other sweet or savory filling, like spiced pumpkin puree, which is great with chopped walnuts, spinach-artichoke dip, or a paste of softened butter mixed with garlic and herbs and a little Dijon mustard.

Sammich Season

tomato slices directly on the generous mayonnaise layer, always, so the juice and mayo mingle and drip onto the plate, making a delicious sour-salty sauce to be sopped up with the crustsThe variations tend to turn the bread into more of a star, but sometimes bread is just meant to be a supporting player. This loaf was designed to be a platform for the last BLTs of the 2010 tomato season. Frost has been threatening, so even though it hit 80F this weekend, I decided it was time to pull all the tomatoes out of the jungle, ripe or no. The green ones will eventually get dipped in egg and seasoned cornmeal and pan-fried, or chopped and baked in a tomato mincemeat pie, but they’ll last for a while yet on the counter. This week, we feast on the last of the ripe ones.

I leaned again on my old stand-by, using 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour, butter, and honey. I didn’t have any oats on hand, though I would have used them if I did. I did add 1/4 cup flax meal, and 1/4 cup sunflower seeds. The result is soft enough that it won’t cut up your mouth but stable enough that it won’t fall apart. The whole wheat flour and sunflower seeds give it lots of flavor and texture, but there’s still enough white flour and gluten to get a good rise and prevent it from being a dense brick. The honey adds just a little sweetness and I let it rise long enough to have just a little sourdough tang. 

No elaborate history or etymology or personal story today, just a simple recipe for sandwich bread, which anyone with a sourdough starter ought to have. There’s a note about how to substitute active dry yeast if you don’t have a starter, and I’ve included the ratios for both one and two-loaf versions using 2 cups of starter. If you only have 1 cup of starter to use, halve the 2-loaf version. Slashing didn't seem to affect the rise at all, so it's basically an aesthetic choice.

Recipe: One loaf of sourdough-risen sandwich breadclockswise from the empty bowl: refreshed starter, honey, melted butter, dry ingredients

  • 2 cups refreshed sourdough starter (100% hydration)*
  • 3 cups flour (all-purpose or bread flour or a combination of flours)**
  • 2 t. kosher salt (1.5 t. regular)
  • 2 T. liquid fat (oil or melted butter or lard)
  • 2t-2T sugar or honey (2 t. for savory breads, up to 2 T. for sweeter breads)

Recipe: Two loaves of sourdough-risen sandwich bread

  • 2 cups refreshed sourdough starter (100% hydration)*
  • 2 cups water
  • 6 cups flour (all-purpose or bread flour or a combination of flours)**
  • 4 T. liquid fat (oil or melted butter or lard)
  • 2 t. kosher salt (or 1.5 t. regular)
  • 1-4 T sugar or honey (1 T. for savory breads, up to 4 T. for sweeter breads)

*or substitute 1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 t.) per loaf and 1 1/3 cups flour and 1 1/3 cups water; if you want to mimic the sourdough flavor, add 1-2 t. apple cider vinegar per loaf; if you have time, make a “sponge” by combining the yeast with 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup warm water (110-120F) and letting it sit for 5-10 minutes before adding the rest of the ingredients
**if using a low-gluten flour like rye, you may wish to add ~1 T. vital wheat gluten per 1/2 cup of flour, whisked into the dry ingredients before mixing them with the wet ingredients or it may not rise well or turn out a little crumbly

Optional additions, amount recommended per loaf:
1/2 cup
rolled oats, shredded or crumbled cheese, chopped nuts, or dried fruit
1/4 cup flax meal, wheat germ or bran, oat bran, sunflower or sesame seeds, minced sundried tomatoes, bits of cured meat (especially pepperoni), fried onion or shallot, minced roasted garlic, finely chopped crystallized ginger, or chopped olives
2 T. pesto, tomato paste, tapenade, chopped fresh herbs, or caraway or fennel seed
cinnamon-swirl bread filling: 1/3 cup brown sugar + 3 t. cinnamon with 1/4 cup raisins (optional)

Method:

1. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir until most of the flour is moistened and it begins to form a dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

2. Scrape the dough onto a rolling mat or lightly-floured surface and knead, adding more flour if necessary to prevent it from sticking to you too much. If it’s very sticky, let it rest for 10-15 minutes, which allows the flour to absorb more moisture, and then continue kneading. Knead for 10-15 minutes total, or until the dough forms a smooth ball with a taut surface and a small piece of dough stretched between your fingers forms a membrane that you can see light through(i.e. a “baker’s windowpane”).ingredients just combined, shaggy and stickyscraped onto a rolling mat with a little extra flourafter 10-15 minutes of kneading, surface of the ball should be smooth and tautcoated in olive oil, ready to rise

3. Place in lightly-oiled bowl, turn to coat, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 3+ hours, or until doubled in volume. Rising time will vary based on your sourdough starter. I often just let it rise overnight, although if you don’t want any sourdough flavor, you might want to limit it to 5-6 hrs. One way to test if it’s risen enough: if you make an indentation in the risen dough with your finger, it should take more than a minute to “heal.”

the next morning, overflowing the bowl4. Punch the dough down to deflate it, turn it onto a clean surface and knead a few times. Then, shape in free-form loaves or place in loaf pans greased or lined with parchment paper. Let rise another 2-3 hours, or until doubled again. If using loaf pans, it should be rising above the rim of the pan.

5. Preheat the oven at 350F for 15-20 min before baking. Slash the risen loaf down the middle with a sharp knife, if desired. Bake 35 min or until crust is golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when knocked on the bottom.

6. Cool on wire racks. The bread will be easier to slice once it’s completely cooled, but then you don’t get to eat it warm from the oven. Your call.

I usually shape them sort of like footballs, with a pinched seam down one side, and then put them seam-side down into the pansready for rise #2

  

after about 3 hours

if you want the slash, just make a vertical cut about 1/4" deep with a very sharp knife

Sourdough starter-risen American pumpernickel and starter maintenance options

"red-headed stepchild" on the right split while rising and that seemed to obviate the need for slashing; "favorite child" on the left obviously got a little better shape and rise 

Devil’s Fart Bread

“Pumpernickel” has the best etymology in baking (sorry, bagel). “Pumpern” was New High German slang for flatulence, and “Nickel” or just “Nick” was a common name for Satan (e.g. “Old Nick”) as well as other off-brand goblins, demons, rascals, and bastards. So the name of the bread literally means “farting devil” or “farting bastard.” Seriously, this etymology is accepted by German philologist Johann Christoph Adelung, Merriam-Webster, the Snopes Language Database, the publisher Random House, and the Kluge, which from what I can tell is basically the German OED.

It apparently got its name because, especially in its original form, it is extraordinarily dense and full of indigestible fiber. Traditional German pumpernickel is made from un-bolted rye flour and whole rye berries, which move through the digestive system like Metamucil (which I will forever associate with Black History Month). The other reason traditional pumpernickel is so dense is that rye contains very little gluten. No matter how much yeast is in the dough, it won’t rise very much because much of the gas just escapes.

from Wikimedia commonsRye flour also absorbs a lot more moisture than wheat flour and has to be very wet in order to rise at all. A 100% rye flour that’s dry enough to be kneaded or shaped by hand will be a dense, unpleasant brick. Instead, traditional pumpernickel is made with a dough that’s almost like a batter and very sticky. It’s stirred instead of kneaded and poured into loaf pans to rise and bake. The gluten network isn’t strong or extensive enough to create the rounded top you get from wheat breads or American rye risen in loaf pans. That’s is why the German-style pumpernickel (100% rye) that you can buy at the store is perfectly square—it can only rise as high as the sides of the loaf pan.

American Deli-style Pumpernickel

The almost-black color of traditional pumpernickel is due to an incredibly long baking time (16-24 hours at 250F), which apparently causes Maillard reaction browning throughout the entire loaf. Maillard reaction is the same thing that makes toast brown, so traditional pumpernickel is sort of like bread that’s been entirely toasted from the inside-out, which gives it a deep roasted flavor reminiscent of chocolate and roasted coffee.

American bakers who didn’t want to spend the time and resources on that kind of baking process found they could mimic the color and flavor produced by a long stay in a low-heat oven using cocoa, molasses, and/or instant coffee granules. As packaged dry yeast became more widely available, that was substituted for the sourdough starter to shorten the rising time, and vinegar was often added to mimic the traditional tang. Additionally, American bakers used a high proportion of wheat flour to rye flour, which gave their version enough gluten to be shaped by hand and rise like other wheat breads. That’s the version that became popular as part of American deli cuisine. It’s still dense, richly-flavored, and dark brown or almost black, depending on how many darkening agents are used. However, the texture is much lighter and springier than traditional pumpernickel, which makes it far better-suited to sandwiches.

The Ruben: corned beef, gruyere, sauerkraut, and a dressing made of mayonnaise, ketchup, and sweet pickle relishEgg Salad: hard-boiled egg, mayonnaise, mustard, minced celery, grated onion, and a little celery salt, with a few pieces of crisp lettuceTurkey Ruben: smoked turkey, gruyere, homemade coleslaw with celery salt

Rye Sourdough Starter Conversion

I made a rye sourdough starter about six months ago, when I was under the mistaken impression that it was possible to make a 100% rye dough that would rise like wheat bread if you just added enough gluten. You can make any kind of starter with any kind of flour by following the process outlined here, but if you have a starter going already, you can also convert it to a different kind of flour by simply feeding it with the new flour. I didn’t actually want to convert Ezekiel, I wanted a separate rye starter, so I just used a tablespoon of Ezekiel and fed it with rye flour about every 24 hours as follows:

Day 1: 1 T. rye flour, 1 T. water

Day 2: 2 T. rye flour, 2 T. water

Day 3: 1/3 cup rye flour, 1/3 cup water

Day 4: 2/3 cup rye flour, 1 cup water

The reason I started giving it more water than flour is because rye flour absorbs a lot more moisture, and I realized that feeding it at a 1:1 ratio would produce something that would eventually be more like a ball of dough than a batter. That would will still work— “old dough” style starters are basically the consistency of dough and must be kneaded into new batches of bread gradually. I think wetter starters are a little easier to incorporate, and that’s what I’m used to using, so I decided to keep my rye starter at 150% hydration (2 parts flour: 3 parts water).

Day 3: a few tiny bubbles, just after feeding. Hard to tell in this shot, but the bowl was just under half-full After 8 hrs, the starter had bubbled up high enough to touch the plastic wrap covering the bowl. Done: active rye starter.

The first day, there wasn’t a whole lot of action. On Day 2, there were a few bubbles. By Day 3, the starter got bubbly within a few minutes of being fed and doubled in size within 8 hours. I used it to make a loaf with 100% rye flour, which didn’t rise much, but did get sour. Previous loaves I’d made with mostly rye flour using my wheat starter rose about the same amount, but didn’t get sour. So the rye starter clearly contains more of some strain of yeast that prefers rye flour.

this was dinner one night in February--quartered slices of a brick of traditional-ish pumpernickel with 1) hummus, cheddar, cucumber, and grape tomato, 2) apricot jam, camembert, and apple slices, 3) egg saladI thought about killing it after a few more tries convinced me that it just wasn’t possible to make a soft, sandwich-style or free-form loaf with 100% rye flour. Even after adding 1/2 cup wheat gluten, I couldn’t get enough of a gluten network going for it to rise like a wheat bread. So I can only make 100% rye as tall as my loaf pans go, basically like a traditional pumpernickel. I don’t dislike traditional pumpernickel, but it only really seems suited to being cut into canapé-sized squares and topped with canapé-style toppings, and there’s only so many of those I can eat. There’s nothing wrong with breads that contain less than 100% rye flour, but I don’t need a separate starter for that—Ezekiel will happily rise anything that contains at least 1/2 cup wheat flour.

Keeping a Once-a-Month Starter

The only reason my rye starter is still alive—although haven’t named it yet, so clearly I’m not that attached to it either—is because I’m maintaining it in a way that only requires me to bake with it about once a month instead of once a week. I only save 1-2 t. starter every time I bake, and then feed it weekly until it’s threatening to overflow its jar, which usually takes at least four weeks. I use almost all of it when I bake and save just another 1-2 t. 

You can keep any kind of starter on that kind of feeding schedule if you want to make sourdough-risen bread, but don’t want to do it every week. Once your starter is active, only save about 1 tsp. fed with 1 tsp. flour and 1 tsp. water (or 1.5 tsp. water if using rye flour). Then, about once a week, add just enough flour and water to double whatever is in the jar. A sample feeding schedule for a 100% hydration wheat starter might be:

Week 1: 1 T. flour + 1 T. water

Week 2: 2 T. flour + 2 T. water

Week 3: 1/4 cup flour + 1/4 cup water

Week 4: 1/2 cup flour + 1/2 cup water

Week 5: 1 cup flour + 1 cup water OR bake and start from the beginning again

Sometimes I forget about it for a week, and nothing bad seems to happen. Once I’ve built it up to 1-2 cups again, I make a mental note that I should bake with it sometime in the next week or two. The night before I want to bake, I “refresh” it by pulling it out of the fridge, dumping it into a bowl, adding 1 cup flour and 1 cup water and letting it sit at room temperature for at least 8 hrs before mixing the dough. The next day, I measure out as much as I need for the recipe I’m using, and if there’s a lot left over, I either add it to the recipe and reduce the amount of flour/water I use (baking really isn’t a science), double the recipe, or make another loaf. I suppose I could also just throw the extra away, but I hate to do that. I reserve just about a teaspoonful of the refreshed starter to put back in the jar with a teaspoon each of fresh flour and water, which makes a total of about 1 T. starter. Refrigerate. Repeat. 

I could also save a little more starter, say 2 T. or 1/4 cup, and feed it for just two or three weeks between baking. Not to get all self-help lit, but how empowering is that? You don’t have to be controlled by your yeast culture. You can have sourdough-risen bread as often, or infrequently as you want it. You are the master of your own sourdough starter!

Of course, you can also just use active dry yeast, too, and I’ve included modifications for that and a version that uses a wheat-sourdough below the ingredient list.

Recipe: Rye-starter-risen American Pumpernickel (makes 2 large loaves, adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups refreshed rye starter at 150% hydration (roughly 1.5 cups rye flour and 2.25 cups water)
  • 1 1/2 cups dark rye flour
  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup vital wheat gluten (optional but highly recommended)
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 4-8 T. butter
  • 3 t. salt
  • 2 T. malt extract, maple syrup, or sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 t.-2 t. caraway seeds (optional)
  • 1/2 t. fennel seeds (optional)
  • 1/2 t. coriander seeds (optional)
  • 1 T. shallot, fresh or dried, or onion powder (optional)
  • 2 T. cocoa (optional)
  • 1 T. instant espresso or coffee powder (optional)

Wheat Sourdough Starter Substitution: Use 2 cups of 100%-hydration sourdough starter made with all-purpose or high-gluten wheat flour, like Ezekiel (~1.5 cups flour and 1.5 cups water), increase the dark rye to 3 cups, reduce the bread flour to 2 cups, and increase the water to 1 cup. The rest of the ingredients and steps stay the same. If the dough is too sticky to knead, add more wheat flour. If it’s too dry to form a smooth ball and cracks as you knead it, add more water.

Active Dried Yeast Substitution: Combine 2 packages or 1.5 T. active dry yeast with 1/2 cup warm water (110-120F) and 1/2 cup all-purpose or bread flour. Let sit for 10 min, and then add 3 cups rye flour, 2 1/2 cups bread flour, 2 cups warm water, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar and the rest of the ingredients from the gluten on down in the same amounts as above. If the dough is too sticky to knead, add more flour. If it’s too dry and cracks as you knead it, add more water.

Method:

1. If using fresh shallot, mince. If using dried shallot and/or any of the spices, grind them in a coffee grinder, mortar and pestle, or by putting them in a zip-top bag and crushing them with a rolling pin.

I discovered the motor in my coffee grinder was dead, so opted for the ziploc bag route Some people like the seeds whole--if you do, skip this step and just add them to the dough

2. Whisk together the flours and the gluten, if using. The gluten will start to form long sticky strands as soon as it is moistened, so you want it to be distributed throughout the flour and the dough well.

3. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir just until it starts to come together. black bread 009black bread 010

3. Turn onto a lightly floured surface or rolling mat and knead for at least 15 minutes. It should be slightly sticky, but stick to itself more than it sticks to you and you should be able to form it into a smooth ball.

4. Lightly coat the bowl with oil, put the dough in the bowl and turn to coat the whole surface lightly with oil. Cover and let rise 6-8 hours (or more) until doubled in size.

~midnight~7am

5. Punch the dough down and divide into 2 equal pieces. Shape each into a smooth round ball or oblong, or place in a loaf pan. Cover and let rise again until doubled in size (probably at least 2 hrs, perhaps as much as 6 depending on how active your starter is).

punched down as they rose, they ended up being too close to each other and too big for the same pan, so I cut the parchment in half and separated them

6. Preheat the oven to 350F about 30 minutes before you want to put them in the oven.

7. Slash with a sharp knife—diagonal cuts for oblong loaves, a cross or square for round loaves, a slice down the middle for loaf pans. You can also let the loaf split naturally—one of mine did as it was rising. There must have been a small tear in the gluten network on the outside, which grew into a massive split as it rose. They just look a little more “rustic” that way.

8. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

The combination of caraway, fennel, chocolate, coffee, molasses, and onion or shallot probably isn't for everyone. I'm not a huge fan of caraway so I tend to use very little or leave it out. But there is something about the combination of caraway-infused American Pumpernickel, corned beef, and sauerkraut that just seems "right."

Benedictines and Pimento Cheese Sandwiches for Derby Day

not, perhaps, filled as neatly as possible, but I'd rather have the filling go all the way to the edges. you can definitely pretty them up more if you have the time and inclination. some people even cut little hearts and flowers in the bread with a cookie cutter. 

The Great Crust Contradiction

Given that a chewy crust is the main distinguishing feature of expensive, artisinal breads, it’s sort of ironic that when people want to make sandwiches “elegant,” they often cut the crusts off entirely. And it’s even more ironic that many of those crust-less sandwiches are filled with some combination of cheese and/or mayonnaise, the hallmark ingredients of un-refined midwestern, church-social, Jell-O and macaroni “salad” cuisine. Especially given the Wonderbread-style bread, the ingredients on their own say something like “trailer park,” but turn them into little crustless triangles filled with cool, tangy spreads and you conjure images of dainty tea parties and women in be-ribboned hats. They’re perfectly-suited to the kinds of events where you plan on sipping mint juleps while you watch horses with names like “Make Music For Me” and “Devil May Care” dash around a track in the most potentially-lucrative two minutes of their racing careers.

These two sandwich spread recipes contain both cheese and mayonnaise, but I promise you that despite the low esteem that many people hold the primary ingredients in, they will generally consider these sandwiches classy and delicious. I know I’m posting them too late for this year’s Derby (I made them for a Derby party and it’s difficult to explain how something turned out or post any pictures of it before you’ve actually made it), but they’re also perfect for any other spring or summertime event. And pimento cheese is also a great appetizer or burger topping. I’ll post the recipe for the sourdough-risen, soft, white sandwich bread I used sometime later this week, but if you’re not up for making your own bread, store-bought loaves will seem just as fancy when you remove their crusts. And if you’d rather not waste the crusts, they’re perfect for making homemade croutons

if you're in a hurry, it's just a basic sourdough bread recipe: 1 c. starter, 1 c. water, 3-4 c. flour, 2 T. melted butter, 2 T. sugar, 2 t. kosher salt per loaf, knead until a smooth ball, rise until double, shape and place in loaf pan, rise again, bake at 350 for 35-45 min or until golden and the bottom sounds hollow when tappedI usually try to check my snark about processed foods because to each her own, right? But I admit to being totally flummoxed by those frozen pb&j pockets called "uncrustables." I mean, how much time does it really save you if you have to defrost or toast the thing? And you give up the ability to choose the kind of nut butter and jelly you want. AND the crimped edge may not be dark like a crust, but it's still a harder bit without filling. What the hell is the point?

Cheese and Mayonnaise Sandwich #1: No, Not that Benedict

Benedictines are essentially a variation on the classic cucumber sandwich in which the cucumber is shredded and drained and then combined with the cream cheese and mayonnaise to make a spread. They’re usually flavored with onion and tinted a pastel green with food coloring. The main difference between the many different Benedictine recipes out there seems to be how the onion flavor is added. The simplest way is just to add onion powder. Yumsugar uses scallions. Saveur’s recipe calls for grating an onion and squeezing the juice into the cream cheese mixture and then discarding the onion flesh. Other recipes, including Paula Deen’s, include the grated onion in the mixture—as much as an entire onion or as little as 2 tablespoons (all of them call for just one 8 oz. package of cream cheese so it’s not a question of scale).

I have no real fidelity to “authenticity” (a term that’s usually meaningless anyway), but I decided to try to find out whether there was an “original” recipe out there somewhere and how it incorporated the onion. The sandwich shares its name with monastic orders that follow the teachings of Benedict of Nursia  and the herbal liqueur originally produced at the Benedictine Abbey in the Normandy region of France, but apparently isn’t related. Nor does it bear any relation to the classic brunch dish composed of a split English muffin topped with ham, poached eggs, and hollandaise sauce, which is apparently named after either Lemuel Benedict, a 19th C. Wall Street broker, Commodore E.C. Benedict, an early 20th C. banker and yachtsman, or Mr. And Mrs. LeGrand Benedict, who were regulars at Delmonico’s (my money’s on Lemuel—I expect I’ll have the occasion to look into it more another time).

Classy but accessible: Benedict's restaurant in a photo published in The Louisville Times November 13, 1969, from  http://www.littlecolonel.com/Places/Louisville/Benedicts.htmThe sandwiches have a much more recent and less contested namesake—one Miss Jennie Carter Benedict, who studied at the Boston School of Cooking with Fannie Farmer and then worked as a caterer and restaurateur in Louisville from 1893-1925. She’s been credited with shaping the tastes of the Kentucky elite and the emerging middle-class. She catered weddings and other special events for many of Louisville’s most prominent families, whose tastes were broadly influential. And given her Boston School training, which emphasized the kind of cooking that came to be seen as “American” in that period (inspired by British/New England traditions, distinguished on the one hand from the French food associated with aristocrats and on the other from the foodways of recent immigrants), she and her eponymous restaurant were among the pioneers of a new kind of middle-class entertaining and dining.  Benedict’s and the kinds of food popularized by “Miss Jennie,” as she was known, were seen as genteel and respectable, but not aristocratic. Benedict’s was part of the emerging middle-ground between the pubs and cafeterias that catered to the (mostly male) working class and fancy restaurants that catered only to the wealthy. Miss Jennie’s food was a newly “respectable” version of recognizable, “American” ingredients and techniques within reach for families who couldn’t afford the kinds of ingredients or brigade of servants required to prepare elaborate French meals.

Despite the fact that she and her restaurant were so famous for their dyed-green cucumber sandwich spread that people referred to it by her name, she didn’t include a recipe for it in The Blue Ribbon Cook Book she wrote, first published in 1904. The omission was so glaring that when the University Press of Kentucky decided to re-issue the cookbook in 2008, they added one provided by Louisville-area cookbook writer Ronni Lundy. Like Saveur’s recipe, it calls for onion juice. But unlike any of the other recipes I’ve seen, it also jettisons the cucumber pulp. You grate and drain the cucumber, but reserve and add just the juice to the spread.

I want a little more than cream cheese in my sandwiches—I actually prefer entire slices of unpeeled cucumber when I’m not trying to be Derby-appropriate. Also, while I have no personal any objection to food coloring, I was afraid other people might (I wouldn’t have any qualms about their response to truffle oil or “natural” flavoring, but consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, right?). Since my favorite thing about classic sliced-cucumber sandwiches is the dill, which Benedictine recipes usually don’t have, I tried to give it a little more green coloring with a puree of fresh dill and a little of the cucumber water.

the dill juice was quite green... but barely noticeable once stirred in

All of which is to say, the recipe, as with most things I post, is a set of general guidelines at best. I don’t think you can make a bad sandwich with cream cheese and mayonnaise and cucumber and onion.

Cheese and Mayonnaise Sandwich #2: A Better New-Bacon Contender

pimento cheese is coming for you, bacon!

One of Subway’s current commercials claims that pepperoni is the new bacon. I don’t actually think anything’s going to replace bacon as America’s favorite icon of dreaded/desired food, but if it ever caught on big time, pimento cheese might have a better shot than another cured meat. Recipes almost invariably mention something about how fattening and diet-busting and artery-clogging and waistline-expanding it is.

It’s the kind of dish that should come with its own treadmill—The Amateur Gourmet

And even people who aren’t afraid of fat often cringe at the idea—Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s, who’s  an ardent defender of things like butter and bacon, made the mistake of dissing pimento cheese at the Southern Foodways Alliance because he thought it was a processed, “flavorless” food (as if lack of flavor is really the problem with processed food). He’s since made up for it by putting pimento cheese all over the Roadhouse menu, where you can get it as an appetizer or in a mac & cheese dish and sometimes on a burger. They also sell it at the deli and online ($20 for 12 oz!).

Given that this really is composed almost entirely of cheese and mayonnaise, when you put it on a sandwich it’s basically the Anti-Subway Diet since emulating Jared requires you to get your subs without cheese or mayo.So, the reason I think it could give bacon a run for its money is that not only does it have the same OMG Fat transgressiveness, it’s also got OMG Americans-and-their-awful-cheese-and-mayo-food transgressiveness. Like bacon, it’s great on its own but can also be used to enhance a wide variety of dishes, including the all-important burger. And if anyone wrinkles their nose about the ingredients, you can gesture to how authentically Southern it is and imply that if they don’t like it, they’re racist or something. (If that’s not “exotic” enough for you, you can gesture to the virtually identical dish called Cheese Pimiento that’s popular in the Philippines or one of the similar family of dishes in Europe that go by the names Liptauer (Austria), Liptau (Germany), Körözött (Hungary), and Šmirkás (Slovakia)). 

It kind of reminds me of a culinary version the Kelly Clarkson song, “Since U Been Gone,” which even indie-music fans and hipsters were abnormally devoted to despite its mass-culture taint—or perhaps because of it. Pimento cheese would be the perfect new obsession for foodies looking to prove they’re not snobs who hate America.

I decided to make my own mayonnaise, which I had tried doing it by hand before, but the emulsion didn’t hold. This time I used an immersion blender, the way Herve This recommends. Instead of having to add the oil droplet-by-droplet and then in a thin stream while trying to whisk madly, you just put the yolks and vinegar in a 2-cup measure, stand the stick blender in the cup and then pour the oil on top so it’s a separate layer.

crepes and benedictines 047 crepes and benedictines 049

As you pulse the blender, keeping it flush against the bottom of the measuring cup, the oil gets gradually incorporated and you can actually see the emulsion bloom up from the bottom of the measure. It takes less than 2 minutes and is supposedly foolproof—it certainly worked like a charm for me. However, despite everyone else’s protestations to the contrary, I don’t actually think it’s that much better than Hellman’s/Best Foods. As with all homemade things, it does give you the chance to adjust the saltiness and acidity level and flavor as desired, but I think the real reason people bother is bragging rights.

Recipe: Benedictine Sandwich Spread (adapted from YumSugar and Saveur)
fills 30-40 slices of bread, or about 2 standard home-made loaves—depending on how thin you slice the bread and how thick you spread the fillinglike a cucumber canoe

  • 1 English-style cucumber 
  • 16 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 4 T. mayonnaise
  • 1/2 t. Tabasco or other hot sauce
  • 1 small-to-medium white or yellow onion
  • 4 green onions
  • 4 T. fresh dill (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

1. Peel the cucumber, slice it lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a small spoon. Grate it either by hand or in a food processor, toss with a pinch of salt and drain well in a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth-lined or paper-towel lined colander, pressing to remove as much excess liquid as possible.

2. Place the cream cheese, mayonnaise, and Tabasco in a bowl and stir until smooth and creamy. Add the drained cucumber.

the salt helps the vegetables drain more liquid I think I liked this method, which involved lots of onion flavor but no big chunks of raw onion

3. Grate the onion either by hand or in a food processor, toss with a pinch of salt, and wrap in cheese cloth or paper towel, and drain into the cream cheese mixture.

4. Finely chop the green onions and the dill if using and add them to the mixture.

5. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as desired.

Recipe: Pimento Cheese (adapted from the Los Angeles Times and Amateur Gourmet)
fills 30-40 slices of bread or about 1 1/2-2 loaves of homemade bread, again depending on how thin you slice the bread and how thick you spread the filling

For the mayonnaise:

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 T. white wine vinegar
  • large pinch kosher salt
  • large pinch ground white pepper
  • 1 t. mustard powder
  • 1 c. canola oil (or any other neutral-flavored oil)
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • 1/2 c. olive oil

For the pimento cheese:

  • 10 oz. sharp cheddar (I used a mix of white and orange, which several recipes recommended; some people use Velveeta, some use part Monterey Jack)
  • 1 4 oz. jar of pimentos (some people substitute roasted bell peppers)
  • 1 t. cayenne pepper (less if desired)
  • 1/2 t. ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • salt to taste

1. Separate the yolks into a 2-cup measure, or the beaker that came with the immersion blender. Add the vinegar, salt and pepper, and mustard powder. Place the blender in the measure or beaker, flush against the bottom. Gently pour the oil in so it sits on top of the other ingredients.

2. Pulse until most of the mixture is emulsified (less than 1 minute). Then, begin to rotate the blender a little so one edge is always touching the bottom but it can grab a little more of the oil. Once most of the mixture is emulsified, plunge the blender a half a dozen or so times until the mixture is creamy throughout.

finished blending after the lemon and olive oil have been mixed in

3. Transfer to a bowl and whisk in the lemon juice and olive oil—you should not use olive oil for the first part or the emulsification won’t hold and the blending will release bitter-tasting compounds.

4. Let sit at room temperature for 4-8 hrs, which is the temperature at which acid is most effective at killing bacteria (per Alton Brown). Then refrigerate for up to a week.

5. Drain and mince the pimentos and grate the cheese (I used a food processor for both).

is it really pimento cheese if you use bell peppers?  I cannot believe the big Z charges over $1/oz for this. Seriously...it is cheese and mayonnaise. WTF.

5. Combine all the pimento cheese ingredients. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving to allow the cheese to break down a little and the flavors to meld.