Sunday, July 25, 2010

Lets Bring Back Picnics

Somewhere recently I read that picnics are falling out of favor with the younger crowd. Couldn't tell you if that is true, but I support that author's call to bring back old-fashioned picnics where you pile a basket or tote with lots of home made goodies to eat and a cooler with stuff to drink and then you spread out a blanket or table cloth and set out the feast. Smart folks picnic where there are picnic tables so that you get to sit on a bench and the table keeps the olives from rolling all over the place like they tend to do on that picnic cloth on the grass.

One of my nephews is coming to visit next month and we hope to go on at least one picnic. I'm a firm believer that visitors make for the perfect excuse to throw normal day to day living to the winds and to pretend that I'm a tourist and on vacation, too. We also hope to go to San Francisco and probably an excursion through the redwoods and to a county fair and maybe a ferry ride.

When you have been working hard all day and have no actual energy to bake or cook anything beyond the basics, its the perfect time to browse cookbooks. Little chance of jumping up to bake those gorgeous brownies, but a good chance of being inspired for another day.

That's what happened this week. I keep hearing about Beth Hensperger the bread baker and how great her recipes are so I too her book, The Bread Bible out of the library and found the perfect recipe for one of those picnics I have planned. She even has a section of the book called Savory Special Occasions: Picnic Breads, which makes it easy should we have more than one picnic.

The loaf I decided to pre-screen, so to speak, is a wonderful, aromatic, savory thing called Sausage Bread. It is basically pizza dough rolled up with a sausage onion filling and twirled into a snail shape and then baked to a golden brown.

As is often the case, I jazzed it up a bit right from the start. To begin with I started with her Basic Pizza Dough, but I wanted to use my sourdough starter. The starter had already been enriched with a feeding of flour and water a few days before. I wanted to use some whole wheat flour and semolina flour, too. The olive oil remained the same...something had to. These changes made for a delightful pizza dough that was easy to work with and full of flavor.

For the filling I again changed things a bit. I used less sausage and more onion than called for and included some minced Italian parsley and some fresh baby spinach which I steamed, squeezed dry and chopped. I was tempted to add some shredded mozzarella, but decided I had enough filling.

I also changed the order of cooking, sauteing the onions first because the Italian turkey sausage that I get at Willie Bird's has very little fat to render. I used some olive oil to saute' the onions, then browned the turkey separately. Because there was a lot of filling, I also rolled the dough out larger than called for. Where that made the dough a little thinner you can see the filling showing through a little bit.

This is great stuff! When Sweetie and I first had some it was still a little warmer than it should have been, but the aromas were just too good to wait. Later I had a slice that was just slightly warm and I liked that even better. Sweetie had some for lunch reheated today and he was quite pleased with the improvement in taste. Don't you find that almost anything with onions in it tastes even better the next day?

I loved the swirls of filling and dough and this will make a super picnic bread because it tastes fine at room temperature, too. Since there is only one rise for the dough and one rise for the filled bread this one goes together pretty quickly, too (for yeasted bread), so give it a try. You'll be glad you did!
I'm sending this along to Susan at Wild Yeast for her Yeastspotting event...the most inspirational yeasted bread event around.

Sausage Picnic Bread
Based on recipes in Beth Hensperger's book The Bread Bible

1 recipe Pizza Dough (below)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 pound sweet turkey Italian sausage
2-3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 large handful fresh baby spinach (1/4 cup once steamed and chopped)
garlic salt (optional)

Prepare the pizza dough and let it rise. Meanwhile, place a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and saute’ the onion until transluscent, about 5 minutes, stirring to keep it from browning. During the last minute, stir in the Italian parsley and toss it with the onions to combine. Remove to a wide plate and spread to cool.

In the same pan crumble the sausage (remove casings if there are any) and saute’ until the meat is cooked through. If there is a lot of fat rendered, scoop the cooked meat out with a slotted spoon to leave the excess in the pan. Place on another large plate and spread out to cool.

Steam the spinach until fully wilted. Place on a towel and roll up and squeeze well to remove as much spinach juice as possible. Transfer from towel to cutting board and chop spinach. Add it to the meat, add the cooled onion mixture to the meat and stir to combine all the ingredients. Cool to room temperature.

Turn the risen dough out onto a floured work surface. With a rolling pin, roll out the dough to a rectangle. The recipe called for 14 by 10 but I rolled mine out to about 17 by 14 inches. Spread the sausage filling evenly over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border all around.

Beginning at the long edge, roll up jelly-roll fashion to forma long, tight loaf. Pinch the edges and bottom seam tightly to seal.
Place a piece of parchment on a pizza peel or large baking sheet. Put the roll, seam side down onto the parchment and coil the roll into a spiral or snail shape, tucking the outer end under.

Brush the top with olive oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, with a baking stone set on the center rack if available.

Remove the plastic wrap gently. Brush the top again with olive oil and bake in the center of the oven until brown and firm to the touch, 45 – 5 minutes. Remove from the baking sheet to cool on a wire rack before slicing. If you use a baking stone, you can slide the parchment with the snail onto the baking stone and when done slide the parchment back onto the pizza peel or baking sheet, then onto the rack to cool.

Serve warm or at room temperature, spread with mustard if desired. Store, wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator, for up to 2 days. Makes one large loaf.

Sourdough Pizza Dough
based on Basic Pizza Dough in Beth Hensperger’s The Bread Bible cookbook

1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup water
½ cup warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 ½ cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup semolina flour

Place the sourdough starter in a medium bowl. In another bowl whisk together the all-purpose flour and the water. Whisk the flour/water mixture into the sourdough starter. Let sit, uncovered 2 hours (or overnight in the refrigerator).

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer combine the sourdough mixture, the warm water and the olive oil.

In another bowl or large glass measuring cup, whisk together the bread flour, whole wheat flour and semolina flour. Using a wooden spoon, stir about 1 to 1 ½ cups of the flour mixture into the mixture in the stand mixer bowl, until a very soft dough is formed. Using the dough hook and on a low speed, add the rest of the flour mixture, a little at a time, to form a firm dough that cleans the side of the bowl. Add additional bread flour, a tablespoon at a time if necessary. Let the machine knead the dough for 8-10 minutes until satiny. Remove to an oiled bowl or other rising container and turn to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk, about an hour to an hour and a half.

Use in your favorite pizza recipe.


  1. You could give this so many labels:
    rolled up sandwich, portable lunch, easy lunch, dinner in your hand
    but it's probably easier to just say "Let's have a picnic!"

    Fallen out of favor with the younger crowd: they're missing the summer easy fun.

  2. As long as there are perfect Spring days with breezes, as long as there are sunny summer afternoons when one needn't be cooped up in the house or the office -- there will always be picnics.

    No worries on that score!

    That sausage bread looks yummy. I always worry that savories baked into bread will be dry (unless they're cheese, and then I worry it'll be oily) but this looks like it is the right balance of rich and moist and crumbly. YUM.

  3. Well, I love a picnic, and that looks absolutely amazing! I shall be keeping an eye for sunny days and nearby parks, so that I have the perfect excuse to make this and scoff it all down!

  4. Next Sister Down6:08 PM

    You're the picnic goddess, Elle! The best picnic I can remember was the one J and I had with you and Sweetie on a gorgeous afternoon at a winery out your way. You assembled a wonderful assortment of goodies from the supermarket--several different cheeses, different fruits, pate, crackers, bread, etc. We enjoyed the feast at a picnic table outside the winery after taking the tour and buying a bottle of their wine to accompany the goodies. Good times indeed!

  5. Amazing! Yes, let's picnic! I love how you always manage to improve on an already good recipe. Your filling sounds divine, although, I, too, would be tempted to throw in mozarella.

  6. Sounds like a real summer treat.
    I like the way you changed the recipe.

  7. What an interesting idea. You could make a pizza flavoured one too with lots fo veggies and cheese.

    I actually prefer picnics more now than when I was a child. When we used to have picnics they were always just sandwiches and pots of grapes - like a school lunchbox only without the box. Now we are much more adventureous. Will have to remember this bread for next time

  8. Picnics out of favour?? How can that be? We LOVE picnics. We pack them in our bikes with a real tablecloth, serviettes, glasses, wine (shhhh!!! don't tell anyone we take wine!) and the food, of course.

    Your picnic bread sounds amazing.


    (One sad thing we've noticed is that the picnic tables and grills have completely disappeared from one of our favourite public parks. Perhaps this is why picnics are falling out of favour with people. They don't see the picnic tables to remind them to bring their picnics.)