Friday, December 31, 2010

Last breads of 2010!

I've admitted in the past that I am not the mellow type. Which means I had a hard time accepting that 2010 would end with two Mellow Bakers breads skipped ~ pretzels, which I skipped in October because I just couldn't figure out what to do with the whole lye bath business, and semolina bread with soaker and fennel seeds, which was slated for this month but just didn't sound all that great.

Luckily, we didn't have many plans today and there is an ice storm outside, so I was able to finish my last two breads!

For the pretzels . . . I'd initially thought I would brave the lye bath, as instructed in Hamelman's book. I even asked my dad if he'd come help, as he is meticulous about things in the kitchen so I thought between the two of us, we just might be able to do it. But after much research, I decided I really wasn't comfortable having that harsh of a chemical in the house with my two little ones underfoot. So I used Hamelman's recipe and procedures, with the exception of the lye bath. When I got to that part, I subbed in Peter Reinhart's (ABED) baking soda bath instructions.

As a result, the pretzels don't have that distinctively pretzel taste. But they're still tasty little snacks and I think they look pretty cute!

For the semolina bread with soaker and fennel seed . . . Hubby and I discussed the possibility of skipping breads like this one, ones that just don't sound very good. And then we reflected on my bread making over the past year and realized that many breads that we've been skeptical about have turned out to be some of our favorites, so maybe it was good to try them all. The recipe makes 3 medium loaves, so I cut it in thirds and just made one loaf. Like other Mellow Bakers, I shaped it into an S as we did in the BBA Challenge. I was surprised by the lack of oven spring, so I'm guessing I may have let it proof too long on the counter.

The fennel is pretty strong, definitely dominates any flavor from the semolina. Hubby liked it; I thought it was fine.

I can't wait to see what new breads and other cooking adventures 2011 brings!

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope your 2011 is full of peace and joy!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Bread bowls with wild rice soup

Ever since the kids were born and we committed to staying home for Christmas (we used to travel to my in-laws, but it's a treacherous drive through the mountains, so we only drive that way in the summer now), we've had the Christmas Eve tradition of ordering dinner in from my very favorite restaurant. It was a hole-in-the-wall, family-owned Chinese restaurant that my family has been going to since I was four years old. Sadly, this past year, the owners retired, sold the business, and the food isn't even close to what it once was.

We debated getting take-out from several other places for Christmas eve, especially since I decided to host Christmas dinner for the first time this year, but in the end, I decided I wanted to cook...just something simple.

I've been thinking about trying soup and bread bowls for a while now, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Following Frieda's suggestion, I used Peter Reinhart's Italian bread recipe from the BBA. I divided the dough into 6 ounce portions and formed them into tight boules to try to encourage them to rise up instead of out. It worked nicely.

Before dinner, I cut out the tops of the bread bowls, and pushed in the sides to try to create a wide opening. Following Mags' suggestion, I brushed the insides with olive oil and toasted them at 350F for about ten minutes.

I was concerned that the 6 ounce bowls turned out pretty small and thought maybe I should make bigger ones next time. Buuuuut, I'm not sure. The bowls were small; I could only fit one small ladle of soup into each. But there was a perfect amount of bread. The guys just had second scoops of soup, so maybe that's the answer.

For the soup, I made Byerly's wild rice soup. The last step of the recipe is to add the cream and sherry and then serve. I found that the flavors didn't meld; next time, I think I will either make the soup ahead of time or cook it for longer.

Either way, it went perfectly with the bread bowls.

I was nervous that we wouldn't have enough food, as the soup recipe did not make much and the bread bowls were so small, so I decided to throw together a salad from some leftovers in the fridge. It was awesome! My dad requested the recipe, although I just kind of threw things together. This is my best guess:

Spinach and pomegranate salad
3 packed cups of spinach
1 pomegranate (I used this no-mess process to remove the arils)
2 ounces gruyere cheese, cut into very small chunks
2 tbsp chopped walnuts
2 tbsp sliced red onion

for the dressing
1/4 cup cidar vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp poppy seeds
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
pinch of salt

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mellow Bakers: Irish Soda Bread (Dec)

I've never eaten Irish soda bread, but I was intrigued when I saw it on the Mellow Bakers' December list. A non-yeasted bread in Hamelman's book? A bread that can be made in just an hour?

At first I thought it sounded like a very convenient accompaniment to soup, perfect for those nights when we really want soup, but don't have any bread; usually we have to wait until the next day. Then I talked to my dad, who informed me that Irish soda bread (at least the kind my aunt used to make) was a sweeter bread, better for breakfast, great for French toast, not good for soup.

So I figured I'd make it tonight and then plan the rest of dinner accordingly depending on how it turned out.

I mixed ground up multigrain flakes (I couldn't find wheat flakes, so I used a combination of wheat, barley, and oat flakes), white pastry flour, whole wheat pastry flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt with a little buttermilk and yogurt. And then I baked it for about 25 minutes.

The results? This was not soup bread and it wasn't French toast bread. It didn't taste like bread at all. Hubby tried a piece and cleared up the mystery: it tastes just like a buttermilk biscuit. Once we figured that out, we tried it with butter and honey. Yep, biscuity. Don't think we'll be making this one again.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Virtual Cookie Exchange: Chocolate-Peppermint Sandwiches

Really, there's a picnic table under there! Can you see it?

Di, over at the lovely Di's Kitchen Notebook, offered to host a virtual cookie exchange this year with Kayte, Phyl, and several others who routinely do "Twitterbakes" together.

Stuck under 17 inches of snow (some are calling it Snowmaggedon or Snowpocolypse here) and therefore unexpectedly home on a Saturday afternoon, I jumped onto the baking bandwagon, along with Andrea. This was my first time joining in a Twitterbake ~ where a group of bakers bake the same, or a similar, recipe and tweet about their process ~ and it was great fun!

The recipe I chose was chocolate-peppermint sandwiches from the newest issue of Cook's Country, a finalist from their reader Christmas cookie contest.

I was initially concerned that I'd overbaked the cookies, but they ended up being perfectly chewy. The recipe calls for basic semi-sweet chocolate chips, which is what I used, but I'm intrigued with the thought of experimenting with a higher quality darker chocolate. The other change I'm planning to make next time (and there will be a next time!) is to use a smaller scoop. The recipe calls for a tablespoon of dough for each cookie; this made cookies that were way too big for my little ones. I think I will use a teaspoon next time.

I had some challenges with the frosting. It was too runny, not very pepperminty, and there was only enough to fill about half of the cookie sandwiches. I made several changes, which are indicated below.

The sandwich cookies were chocolately but not too sweet, and were tasty by themselves. But with the addition of the pepperminty frosting, they were just amazing!
Chocolate-Peppermint Sandwich Cookies
adapted from Cook's Country

For the cookie dough:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
5 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp water
1 egg

For the frosting:
3 tsp milk
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/4 tsp peppermint extract
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 drops of red or green food coloring (optional)

For the cookies:
1. Preheat oven to 350F with racks in the upper-middle and lower-middle positions
2. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper
3. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl
4. Heat butter, chocolate, brown sugar, and water in medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until smooth. (I used frozen butter, so I heated it on low heat for a bit by itself until it began to melt.)
5. Transfer to large bowl and beat in the egg.
6. Stir in flour mixture until just combined.
7. Place 1 tbsp (I'll use a teaspoon next time) dough on the baking sheets. Bake cookies until puffed and edges are smooth, about 10 minutes (I baked them for 11 or 12). Cool 5 minutes on sheets and then transfer to a wire rack.

For the filling:
1. Whisk melted butter, milk, and extract in medium bowl until combined. (Check peppermint flavor; the recipe calls for 1/8 tsp, but I couldn't taste the peppermint at all.) Add sifted sugar and mix until smooth. Then add food coloring, if desired. (I split mine into two batches and colored one red and one green.)
2. Spread 2 tsp filling over bottom of cookie (the recipe calls for 1 tsp, but that wasn't nearly enough to taste it between two cookies; 1 tsp might be enough for smaller cookies) and then top with remaining cookie.
(The recipe says that sandwiches can be refrigerated in airtight container for 2 days, but ours didn't make it that long.)

Thanks for hosting, Di! It was so much fun! (Check Di's post later this week for a round-up of all the fun cookies people baked!)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mellow Bakers: Ciabatta with Poolish (December)

My first December bread for the Mellow Bakers is ciabatta. We have three choices: ciabatta with poolish, ciabatta with biga, and ciabatta with olive oil and wheat germ. Based on the recommendation of Natashya, who baked all three, I decided to try the poolish version.

We are buried under 17 inches of snow, so there's not much to do but bake. And what better than bread to go with a warm bowl of soup?

The recipe was easy, although (as usual) my bread did not need to bake for as long as  specified in the recipe.

We loved this beautifully-holed, perfect-tasting ciabatta.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hamelman's whole wheat levain

On my never-ending quest to find a home-baked bread that the kids will actually accept for their sandwiches, I tried Hamelman's whole wheat levain. Although I had no experience with wild yeast before a year ago, and I wasn't wild about what I thought of as "sourdough breads," I've come to really like the flavor, texture, and staying quality of breads made with my starter. I've found that most whole grain sandwich loaves made with instant yeast are a little too crumbly to hold up to my two little ones trying to eat a sandwich.

I prefer multi-grains (Hamelman's whole wheat multi-grain levain is my current favorite), but the kids don't really like "things" in their bread.

Anyway, I also thought they might be more apt to eat my bread for sandwiches if it was shaped like a sandwich (in other words, baked in a tin). So I requested a little advice from the Mellow Bakers gang, and, as usual, they were awesome. Jacqueline and Joanna both gave me helpful advice for baking this bread in a tin, and I was off!

The recipe was pretty basic and baking in the loaf pan went off without a hitch. The sourdough bite was pretty pronounced (I imagine it was because I was trying to bake it while making Thanksgiving dinner, so it got a couple of surprise rests in the fridge), so the kids didn't really like it. And hubby and I found it...okay. Nothing great. Also, I buttered the loaf out of the oven, which turned out to be a mistake, as it just made the top kind of soggy. So...not a repeat, but it still provided us with a solid base for Thanksgiving leftovers!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Horst Bandel Pumpernickel (Mellow Bakers - November)

I love that participating in a baking challenge gives me lots of opportunity to talk and read about bread. And I love that it consistently puts good food on my family's table. And I love that when you combine a baking challenge with my obsessive nature (which makes it extremely difficult to skip any recipes), I make things that I never would have made otherwise.

This is one of those breads. Our Mellow Bakers selections for November were country bread (meh), brioche (oh my, sooooo good!), and Horst Bandel Pumpernickel (just got in under the wire: it's November 30th!).

I had several challenges with this bread: I do not own a pullman pan, can not seem to find rye chops, and didn't have any blackstrap molasses on hand. Still, knowing how forgiving bread can be, I went ahead. For the rye chops, I made my own as I have done in previous JH recipes, using hubby's coffee grinder on its coarsest setting. For the molasses, I left it out, as JH recommends you do instead of subbing in sweet molasses. For the pan, I hemmed and hawed . . . almost bought a pullman, almost used a regular loaf pan covered in foil . . . but in the end, I decided to use my big enamelend cast iron dutch oven. While the shape is non-traditional (it made a round loaf), I knew that it was heavy and solid and would keep moisture locked in, a key component of this 12+ hour bake.

This bread takes a considerable amount of preparation ~ much of it in the form of research. Before baking, you need to activate your starter, create the new rye levain, gather old bread (I used the last of Hamelman's 5 grain which I had frozen, thawed, sliced, and baked until dry and dark), and make a rye berry soaker. I realized after the bread was already baking, when I went back to re-read posts about this bread on the forum, that I should have also soaked my homemade rye chops, but I didn't.

On baking day, the rye berries are boiled and the old bread is soaked. (I followed the lead of previous Mellows and didn't soak it for the called-for four hours, but only as long as it took to get everything else together. That seemed to be perfect, as I was able to squeeze out excess moisture without the bread crumbling into nothingness.) Then everything is combined: high gluten flour (I used bread flour with a little vital wheat gluten), the old bread, the rye berries, a little salt, a little instant yeast, the levain, pumpernickel meal, and the rye chops. JH says to mix it for 10 minutes on speed 1. My stand mixer could not handle this job. It could mix for about a minute and then the stuff would just glom onto the sides of the bowl and wouldn't go any further. So I helped my mixer; every minute or so, I would stop it and use my hand to pull the dough off the sides and dough hook and then start it again. It was a little odd, but it actually seemed to do the job nicely.

Unlike other people, I had a pretty manageable (not too wet) dough . . . for a rye bread. I was able to ball it up for its first rise (30 minutes) and then form it into a boule for its final rise. For the final rise, it went right into the dutch oven which had been oiled and sprinkled with pumpernickel flour. In other recipes I've seen for baking in a dutch oven, it says you should preheat the pan, but since the bread did its final rise in the pan, I didn't.

Then into the oven. I was a little distressed by JH's lack of specifics about oven times and temperatures, so I followed Drfugawe's lead. I was worried because, while JH warns that home ovens are more challenging because they stay warm too long, I know that my oven cools off quickly from my attempts to use it as a warm space for my baby starter.

I preheated my oven (with the baking stone, which I hoped would help my oven retain heat for longer) for an hour during the final rise. When I put the pan in, I lowered the temperature to 350F for an hour, then 275F for three hours, then 175F for three hours, and then turned off the oven without opening the door. I was right to be concerned about my oven cooling off; in the morning (six hours after being shut off), the temperature was down to 65F and the bread was completely cool. I have no idea how long the oven (or bread) stayed warm.

I wrapped it in a towel and let it sit for 24 hours. This was challenging as I was so curious to see how it turned out! But I waited. This morning, I sliced into it. The crust was extremely hard; other people had talked about the crust softening, so I began to get a little nervous that it was just a dried-out heavy brick. But once I sawed through that tough crust . . . the inside was moist and looked just like bread! This is definitely the darkest bread I've ever made, and I can see why these types are usually sliced thinly. Our test slice was pretty thick, and I couldn't each much of it. The flavor was rich and complex, nutty, dark ~ like other primarily rye breads I've made, but more so. Not really my favorite. Hubby really liked the flavor but said, "It takes 10 minutes just to chew a bite!"

My dad, who loves dark breads, really enjoyed it with butter. We think it will make excellent sandwiches later this week.

So I'm glad I experienced this recipe, but I don't imagine I'll ever make it again. The clear winner for November: BRIOCHE!

Check out all of the other versions of the Horst Bandel experience here!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving...and Maida's Big Apple Pie (Modern Baker)

I am grateful for so many things . . . my children, my family, my friends, good food, a warm house. But I was struck by a new gratitude this year: stress-free holiday cooking! I give credit to all of the baking and cooking challenges over the past year, which have made me so much more confident in my abilities in the kitchen. We host Thanksgiving every year, and usually I plan and calculate and take notes and plan some more . . . and despite my best, most detailed planning, something goes awry and throws all of my timing off.

Today, I tried to plan, but just couldn't get into it. I did everything by instinct. And we ended up with a great turkey, delicious mashed potatoes, yummy rolls (PR's ABED soft rolls), and the most successful gravy we've ever had (ATK recipe). (My dad brought the stuffing and my mom made the cranberries and sweet potatoes ~ both of which definitely made the cooking job easier for me!) Everything made it to the table on time and hot! Although hubby did realize half-way through dinner that we'd forgotten corn . . . his favorite and his one Thanksgiving cooking responsibility.

Dessert was a pumpkin pie made by my little guy and his grandpa. My dad usually brings a frozen apple pie, too, but this year, after all of my cooking, I said I just couldn't stand the thought of a non-homemade addition to our meal, so I would make an apple pie.

I browsed through Nick Malgieri's Modern Baker and found his recipe for Maida's big apple pie. A few days ago, I made the filling (I used golden delicious, granny smith, and braeburn apples). It was easy: cook the apples in a dutch oven with brown sugar, white sugar, and cinnamon until about a third of the apples have disintegrated.

Then I decided to whip up the pie dough, too. It was also easy (although a little odd for pie crust, in my limited experience): flour, salt, baking powder, cold butter, and eggs in the food processor. It was very crumbly. You're supposed to pat it into a circle, but mine was just crumbly crumbly crumbly. I used plastic wrap to get it into a circle and hoped that it would solidify a bit after a couple of days in the fridge.

When I went to bake the pie, I pulled the crust dough out of the fridge and . . . it was green. Not moldy green, but a weird muddy greenish unnatural color. I tried to roll it out anyway and it crumbled into a million pieces.

Exhausted and frustrated, I looked online for any errata (remembering my chocolate genoise cake disaster from this summer). Couldn't find anything, so I sighed and got to work making the dough again. At hubby's urging, I checked again and found this recipe for NM's Maida pie through the Washington Post. Upon further review, it was very different from the one in the book: more butter, fewer egg yolks, a big of sugar, and ice cold water (I'd thought it was odd that the book recipe didn't have any water). I was halfway through the recipe in the book, but decided to switch to this one. So I added a bit of sugar and a bit more butter, scooped out two egg yolks from the prep bowl, and kept going. This one looked much better, although still ended up crumbly. I decided to trust my instincts and added a bit more water until it seemed like the right consistency. Then into the fridge for a rest. (We both needed it!)

After an hour, the dough rolled out fine (although I did go with my usual method and rolled it between two sheets of plastic wrap). I didn't have a pizza pan, so I used a jelly roll of about the same size. Forming the pie was easy and I brushed it with the egg wash, sprinkled it with turbinado sugar, and put it in the oven for about 45 minutes until the crust was golden, the filling was bubbling, and the house smelled wonderful.

NM says to cool the pie on a cooling rack, but is unclear about whether you are to leave it on the pan or try to take it off. The pan had standing butter on it and I figured the crust would get soggy, so I tried to take it off . . . big mistake! It immediately started to break apart. So I left it on the pan to cool overnight, and moved it to a platter this morning.

The pie was absolutely enormous . . . and delicious. Was it better than any other apple pie I've ever had? Probably not. And it was such a challenge to make, I doubt I'll do it again.

A house filled with laughter and love and bellies filled with delicious food . . . couldn't ask for more. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who celebrates it! And Happy Today to all of you!

***UPDATE*** Hubby just declared that it actually was the best apple pie ever. So perhaps it will be in our future after all.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hamelman's 5 (or 4) grain levain

Does anyone else have this problem? We needed a sandwich bread for the week. We have a few recipes that we love. And yet, with all of the breads yet to bake in the world, I just have to try out a new one.........

I was craving the whole wheat multigrain levain that I made for World Bread Day, so I found something similar: Hamelman's five grain levain. This one is lighter than the whole wheat multigrain: it is mostly high-gluten flour (I used bread flour and added a bit of vital wheat gluten) with just a touch of whole wheat flour.

Last night, I made the liquid levain and a soaker. The soaker was flax seeds, oatmeal, cracked rye (rye berries coarsely ground with hubby's coffee grinder). It was supposed to include sunflower seeds, too, but I didn't have any, so I just used some extra flax and oatmeal.

Today, I mixed everything together. It was a lot of dough (over four pounds), and I actually got a bit worried about my stand mixer. So I cut the mixing time short and gave it an extra fold; seemed to do the trick. I made two almost-two-pound loaves in my bannetons and two giant rolls.

We had the rolls for dinner tonight with beef stew. (If it seems like an odd combination, it kind of was, but we were at my niece's birthday party this afternoon, so got home to stew in the crock pot and fresh bread and it was dinner time, so.....) Hamelman describes this bread as one of the most delectably flavored breads ever. We definitely enjoyed it; hubby was surprised by how soft the texture was, given how dark it looked. As usual, the kids didn't like the seeds. This bread is quite yummy, but I would place it second to the whole wheat multigrain.

(Sorry for the poor-quality photo...With the sun going down at 4ish these days, it's going to be challenging to get a photo with natural light for the next few months!)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mellow Bakers: Brioche (November)

Brioche is not my type of bread. I said that when I made the BBA brioche and again when I made Nick Malgieri's brioche. I'm just not into rich, buttery, breakfasty breads.

But the brioche from Bread . . . oh, my! The best brioche I've ever tasted. Fluffy, buttery, creamy goodness. I made it for tomorrow's dinner of French toast . . . let's just hope it makes it that long!

This is a cold-loving dough. Mix flour, salt, instant yeast with cold eggs, cold water, and cold butter. Let it mix forever. Really, I think it took about twenty minutes in my stand mixer for the butter to incorporate itself into the dough and pass JH's "sheet" test (the same as PR's windowpane?). Then it rose for an hour, was given a fold, and was placed in the fridge for an overnight rest.

This afternoon, I took it out and used PR's directions for shaping. He suggested a one-pound loaf for an 8x4 pan, so that's what I did. I made the rest of the dough (about 10 ounces) into a free-form brioche-a-tete (which ended up partially unraveling in the oven). In retrospect, I should have used all of the dough in my loaf pan; the one pound never filled the pan.

Regardless, the misshapen brioche-a-tete and the mini-sandwich loaf both baked for about fifteen or twenty minutes, made the house smell heavenly, and tasted divine. Who would've thought it? A brioche recipe that I'll definitely be making again!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Weekend baking tidbits

I didn't bake any challenge breads this weekend, but I did make a few fun things . . . I'm not sure any of them deserves its own post, so here is a collection of weekend tidbits!

* Butternut squash puree
The little guy started preschool this fall. We found a fabulous preschool at a local nature center, and it is just perfect for my nature-loving guy. They have a working farm, an apiary, ponds, prairie, trails to hike. He loves it. The last few times I've gone to pick him up, they've had a selection of foods from the farm; on Thursday, we picked up a butternut squash. I followed this recipe from Pioneer Woman for butternut squash puree. After the 30 minutes called for, the squash wasn't tender enough, but the rest of dinner was ready so I pulled it out of the oven and proceeded with the recipe. As a result, it was chunkier than I would've liked, but it still tasted wonderful! 

* Whole wheat apple muffins & Homemade tasty toaster tarts
We still had some apples left over from our trip to the orchard last weekend. The little guy requested apple muffins, so I found this King Arthur recipe via Smitten Kitchen (I subbed in my yogurt for the buttermilk). The kiddos helped me measure and mix. We all really loved these muffins. I ate two, and I'm not even a muffin person!

And I've had this recipe for homemade pop tarts flagged (again from King Arthur via Smitten Kitchen) for months. I was really intrigued.

The dough and I did not get along. The first time I made it, I could not get it to come together, no matter how much liquid I used. On re-reading the recipe, I realized that I had only used one stick of butter instead of two . . . . grrrrrrr. So I had to dump the first batch in the trash and start again. The second batch came together, although it was still much more crumbly than it was supposed to be. I had to roll it out between two sheets of parchment paper, and then it stuck to the paper. Gr. But I was able to get about a dozen mini tarts.

I made three fillings: melted chocolate, homemade strawberry jam, and apple. For the apple, I used my favorite apple crisp filling recipe: 1 apple, 1 tbsp of sugar, a pinch of cinnamon, 1 tsp flour, and 1 tsp butter, cooked down over medium heat for five minutes.

The chocolate and apple were both great warm. All three were tasty the next day. While I didn't think they tasted (or looked) like store-bought pop tarts at all, hubby declared that the apple version tasted like "a baby apple pie in my mouth!"

* ABED bagels
I needed something yummy for bookclub on Sunday. Hubby requested bagels, and I decided to try the bagel recipe from Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day. This recipe was incredibly easy, even easier than the BBA version which I've made a bunch of times. A quick mix of malt syrup, yeast, salt, and water, then all of that mixed with flour. Mix, rest, knead, and rise: all of this took just slightly over an hour. Then I cut the dough into a dozen pieces of two ounces each, shaped them into bagels, and stuck them in the fridge. The next morning, I let them rise on the counter for an hour before dipping them in the poaching liquid and then baking them for about sixteen minutes. The texture and crust were just as good as BBA or Hamelman; the flavor wasn't quite as distinctively bagely. But for a quick Sunday breakfast, these were perfect!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Mellow Bakers: Country Bread (November)

I am still feeling guilty for skipping my first ever Mellow Bakers bread (pretzels) last month. I just couldn't figure out what to do about the lye. I was curious to try the process, but nervous about using such harsh chemicals in a house with two little ones running around. I was going to just go the baking soda route, but then I didn't have any diastatic malt barley powder......

So I just went ahead to November (where we have another bread that I'm contemplating skipping).

My first bread was country bread. This one was pretty basic: bread flour, salt, instant yeast, and water. I made the preferment two nights ago. By yesterday afternoon, it had risen quite well. I proceeded with the recipe through the shaping stage, and then stuck the bread into the fridge overnight.

This afternoon, our schedule was pretty tight, so I had hubby pull the bread out of the fridge and preheat the oven while I picked up the little guy from preschool. Unfortunately, by the time I got home, the bread had already overproofed. I decided to try slashing anyway......whoooooooosh (the sound of all of the air leaving my bread). It rallied a little in the oven, but it was still a pretty flat loaf.

As for the taste? I don't think we'll make this one again, as we have so many other recipes we prefer (generally recipes with whole grains ~ like rustic bread). But it was very yummy with our soup, and the four of us managed to demolish more than half the loaf at dinner.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

(Unofficial) FFwD: Hashis Parmentier and Apple Cake

Many of the bloggers whom I've met through the BBA Challenge, the Mellow Bakers, and the Modern Baker Challenge also participate in Tuesdays with Dorie, a group dedicated to baking Dorie Greenspan's recipes each week. Although I've never owned one of Dorie's cookbooks, I enjoy reading what they bake up each week. And a few weeks ago, when a new group formed (French Fridays with Dorie) to cook through Dorie's new cookbook: Around My French Table, I was very tempted to join. But given how busy life is with the new job, coaching, two little ones, and two other baking challenges, I just couldn't commit.

And then posts about Dorie's Hashis Parmentier started popping up a couple of weeks ago and I knew I just had to try it. And then the next week, posts about Marie-Helene's Apple Cake gave nothing but rave reviews. I don't have Dorie's cookbook (yet!), but she was nice enough to both choose the recipes for the first month and also to post a little starter packet for people who don't have the book yet (although now I can't find that link...).

So, even though I am not an official member, today we had a Dorie Greenspan dinner with both Hashis Parmentier and Apple Cake.

The hashis parmentier (like a really fancy shephard's pie) was time consuming but not difficult. It starts with making beef bullion (which tasted amazing on its own, by the way), then cooking up some meat (sausage and cube steak), and then making some mashed potatoes and grating some cheese. Put it all together, bake it for thirty minutes until the potatoes and cheese are brown and bubbly . . . and then find yourself unable to have any conversation around the dinner table because it tastes so incredible.

The apple cake was easy, and because I'd read about how good it was, I baked two: one for our dinner and one to take to work. I used honeycrisps and harrelsons from our trip to the orchard yesterday, and then a couple of red delicious apples and jonagolds.

I didn't have an 8" springform, so I used my 9" cake pans with parchment paper on the bottom. I knew that Di's cake ended up under-baked, so I baked mine for a really long time. I'm not sure how long; I just kept adding five more minutes, five more minutes, five more minutes, until the tops were nice and dark brown. Then I flipped them over onto the cooling rack. The cake was as delicious as promised. I really wanted to try it with ice cream, but with all of my little "just a taste"s, I figured I'd already eaten way more than my share.

Both of these are bake-agains and the cookbook is a must-buy!

"The best peach applesauce ever!!!"

 We're staying in today. Yesterday, we spent the day at the apple orchard and a pumpkin festival . . . Great fun. But all of us have been fighting colds this week, and we decided to spend most of today indoors.

Looking for a fun fall/Halloween cooking project to do with the kids this morning, I found a recipe for peach-applesauce in one of the little guy's favorite cookbooks: C is for Cooking.

(Like his mom, he cannot seem to own enough cookbooks . . . or spend enough time paging through them. Luckily, his nana works at a library and is frequently able to get him discarded cookbooks!) Having just been to the orchard yesterday, we had three bags of apples sitting on the counter, waiting to be made into something yummy.

The last time I made applesauce, it didn't go very well and I swore I wouldn't do it again. Looking back, I think I just didn't cook the apples long enough, so they were incredibly difficult to get through the food mill. Today, it went much better! The recipe in the Sesame cookbook calls for peeling and coring the apples and cooking them in a ton of water. It seemed like it would make a pretty watery, flavorless applesauce. So, I combined instructions from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything and ATK's Family Cookbook, in addition to the Sesame idea of adding canned peaches.

The BEST peach applesauce ever!
1. Cut 10 large apples into four to six pieces.
2. Cut a can of peaches into small chunks. (This is a great job for the little ones!)

3. Fill a large dutch oven with about 1/2 inch of water. Add a pinch of salt.
4. Dump in the apple pieces, cover, and bring to a boil over medium heat.
5. Once boiling, take the cover off, and add 1/4 cup brown sugar and two cinnamon sticks.
6. Stir frequently until the apples are mushy mushy mushy (about 30+ minutes).
7. Add the chopped peaches.
8. Pass through a food mill. (Another great job for the little ones, providing they have some help with holding the mill onto the bowl.)
9. I added a bit more brown sugar (maybe another tablespoon or two); our apples weren't very sweet to begin with.

We ended up with two pints of peach-applesauce for the freezer and another two pints for the fridge. Plus a few bowls for taste tests. The little guy's verdict? "Mom, this is the BEST peach-applesauce in the whole world!!!" and then he had thirds.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Mellow Bakers: Challah (October)

I've made challah a couple of times before. In fact, after I began to bake my own bagels a little over a year ago, it was a challah recipe that inspired me to branch out and try other bread baking, and which eventually lead me to my discovery of Nicole's BBA Challenge. And the rest . . . is history!

The dough came together beautifully (I made a half-recipe): bread flour, a little vital wheat gluten (Hamelman calls for high-gluten flour which I didn't have), salt, sugar, instant yeast, eggs, vegetable oil, and water. After a few minutes in my stand mixer, it was the perfect texture, and I put it in an oiled bowl. After an hour of rising, I degassed it and moved it to the fridge.

I've tried traditional challah braids before, so I wanted to do something a little different with this recipe. I was really inspired by Celia's blog posts about braiding and wanted to try a round loaf. Like others have mentioned on the Mellow Bakers forum, I'm a little frustrated by the lack of specific measurements or weights in the braiding instructions in Bread.

I used 125 grams of dough per strand and rolled my strands out to about 20 inches/51 cm. The strands seemed long and to be a good width, but they were not even close to long enough to finish the braid. I got about 2/3 of the way through the instructions and then had to call it done. I still thought it looked pretty good, though!

It baked for about 35 minutes, smelled heavenly, and was a beautiful golden color. As for the taste? I was not disappointed, as I'd been by the recipe in the BBA. I'm not sure it's as good as the Joan Nathan recipe I originally tried (because I baked it so long ago) . . . but it's definitely has that distictively challah taste. I'm hoping enough of the loaf makes it until Sunday so that I can treat my in-laws to challah French toast!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Modern Baker: Marbled Chocolate Brioche Loaf

A college friend was in town the other day, and she brought me two dozen fresh eggs from her mom's chickens. I've never cooked with farm fresh eggs before; what a joy! Last night, we ate scrambled eggs and pancakes, and then I searched for an eggy bread. Voila! Nick Malgieri's Modern Baker.

We are on the third section of The Modern Baker Challenge already: yeast-risen specialties. And the second recipe of the section is my official recipe: marbled chocolate brioche loaf. (Renee at Every Pot and Pan recently posted her brioche, too!)

I started by heating up milk and whisking in some instant yeast and flour. I let this rise on the counter for 20 minutes. NM says it will "become bubbly and somewhat risen." I didn't notice any major bubbles, but it easily doubled in the bowl.

I combined cold butter, sugar, salt, eggs and egg yolks, lemon zest, and dark rum in my food processor, and then added the yeast mixture and the rest of the flour. Given what others have said about the challenges of completing these recipes in food processors, I'm even more grateful to my hubby who bought me a beautiful new processor for Christmas last year!

The dough was divided into three, and then I mixed one section with a chocolate enrichment: melted bittersweet chocolate, water, baking soda, and cinnamon. I stacked the three pieces in a brioche dough sandwich, cut the stacks into three strips, and then cut each strip into smaller pieces. These were then mushed in a bowl to create the marbled effect.

Then, into a pan, simple rise, and into the oven.
farm fresh eggs!

I'll be honest; this is just not my kind of bread. I didn't love it when we made it for the BBA Challenge, either. I'm just not a breakfast bread person - donuts, coffee cakes, brioche - none of it works for me. When I suggested that it wasn't great to my hubby, he said incredulously, "What?!? You don't LOVE this?!" So I guess it was a hit!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

World Bread Day: Whole wheat multigrain levain

Happy World Bread Day to all of my bread baking buddies out there!

World Bread Day 2010 (submission date October 16)

I was nervous about being able to fit a bread in today as we're in the midst of a very full weekend: a friend visiting from out of town, another friend's wedding, free tickets to the family concert of our local chamber orchestra, a housewarming party. And then I couldn't decide what to bake. Finally I decided to combine two goals and bake a bread that I could bring to the housewarming. These friends love whole grains, so I settled on Jeffrey Hamelman's whole wheat multigrain levain.

It was a little exciting and a little nerve-wracking that JH doesn't give list any specific grains in any specific amounts. He just says to make a soaker of a combination of grains that total 165 grams. I ended up using oatmeal, flax seeds, wheat bran, barley, and coarse corn meal. I made the soaker and the liquid levain last night.

Today (after the concert), I mixed everything together: bread flour, whole wheat flour, yeast, salt, water, honey, liquid levain, and starter. I let the dough rise for a couple of hours with a fold in the middle. Then I shaped it into two loaves, stuck them in the fridge, and headed out to the wedding.

After the wedding (and totally exhausted), I put the loaves into a preheated oven with steam and almost forty minutes later, I took them out and went to bed!

Next day report:
Delicious with butter or as a sandwich base. Dense, chewy texture. Nutty, rich flavor.

Be sure to check out Zorra's site for the WBD round-up!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Mellow Bakers: Roasted potato bread (October)

Nearly halfway through October, and I've finally made my first Mellow Bakers bread of the month. I know I'll make the challah (we are big lovers of French toast in this house, and challah is the perfect bread for that). Lastly, we have pretzels, which I'd love to make in the authentic way ~ but I'm nervous about Mr Hammelman's instructions to use lye, so we'll have to see what happens.

Anyway, the first bread of the month was roasted potato bread. I used Yukon golds, as recommended; they are our favorite kind of potatoes and we pretty much always have them on hand. I roasted them last night. The only complication was that I roasted about 12 ounces, which ended up cooking down to only 5 (the recipe called for 8), so I had to roast a second batch. No biggie; hubby enjoyed the leftovers! I also made the pre-ferment last night, which had developed nicely by late this morning.

All of the ingredients went into the mixer: bread flour, whole wheat flour, potatoes, water, salt, and instant yeast. Then I added the pre-ferment in chunks. The dough was perfect and seemed to behave just as it should. After an hour and a half (with a fold in the middle), I shaped it into an oval and a boule, and then left the house for a bit.

When I came back, at exactly the 75 minute mark (as I said, the dough had been behaving perfectly on schedule), I found two very clearly overproofed loaves. When I scored them, they instantly deflated and spread out. I was so bummed!

But all was not lost! They baked for about 34 minutes, and when I took them from the oven, even though there wasn't much oven spring, they had clearly rallied.

This bread was awesome. The flavor of the roasted potatoes really shines through. The kiddos both asked for seconds (the baby even asked for thirds) and hubby had even more. It was lovely with butter, as well as dipped into ATK's recent recipe for slow-cooker minestrone (which was, unfortunately, a little disappointing). A definite repeat!

Check out other Mellow Bakers' October breads here.