Saturday, January 30, 2010

It's alive!

Or is it?

That's the repeated theme of my attempts at making my own wild-yeast starter: "Nothing's happening. Oh wait, nothing is supposed to be happening yet. Wait! I see some bubbles! Woohoo, it's alive! Oh no . . . nothing's happening. I think it's over. Wait, are those bubbles? It looks like it's moving again! Woohoo, it's alive . . . or is it? Hm, now I'm not so sure . . ." repeat, ad infinitum.

My husband is sick of this starter for two reasons: my constant obsessing and the really sticky messy dishes it creates every day. (Don't be fooled; I'm the official dish-doer in this house, but he does the last few before bed each night, and, as feeding my starter has been my before-bed ritual for the last few weeks, the dishes have fallen to him.)

I started this project three weeks ago, knowing that sourdough breads are coming up relatively soon and that panettone, which is coming up even sooner, also requires a barm. I read a lot on this topic because I have zero experience with sourdough. In fact, before reading the BBA, I didn't even know it was made from wild yeast . . . or what wild yeast was, for that matter. But apparently it is, and apparently wild yeast is what gives sourdough its sour flavor, and apparently wild yeast means that you create the yeast yourself, out of flour and water, and don't just use the convenient little jar. Who knew?! Sounded cool to me, though!

But I also learned from my reading that this was (or could be) a fairly challenging process, so I wanted to start early. I found this awesomely detailed and helpful post from Paul at Yumarama, which I studied and read and bookmarked and read and studied and read some more. I went the pineapple and rye flour route, which seemed to have some success from some novices. So I started. And things went pretty well. For the first three days, I added my pineapple juice and my rye flour to my mason jar, stirred it all around, covered it, and sat it on the counter.

day one

day two

day three: bubbles!

The fourth day, I switched to KA bread flour and I also noted a change: "doubled over the course of the day! beginning to smell a bit yeasty; texture is changing too: not gloppy liquid, but now like a very very wet dough with definite strands obvious when I spoon it out to wash the jar."

day four: doubled!

very proud of myself to be simultaneously working on
my own starter, multigrain, and pain de campagne

The fifth day, I wrote: "very bubbly, but just over the tape line; wondering if it peaked and then fell when it ran out of food (as Paul @ Yumarama talks about); I'll have to watch it more closely tomorrow to see if it's growing, peaking, and sinking because it needs more food; pineapple smell is almost gone, and with the exception of a slight fruity tinge, it smells like yeast!"

And then things fell apart. (This is also when I stopped taking pictures becuase, well, there wasn't anything happy to photograph.) It stopped growing much (if any). I cleaned the jar really well so I could see if it was indeed peaking while I was at school; it very clearly wasn't. I started reading a lot more. I tried giving it a dose of rye flour. I tried changing the feeding ratio (switching to 1:2:2, starter:water:flour). I tried putting it on top of my fridge (which my mother-in-law, who was visiting for the weekend, told me was the warmest place in my house; it was quite a bit warmer than the rest of my kitchen). Still: nothing. I began to think it might actually be done and ready for the garbage.

So I started a new jar, this time writing down every step in my notebook and taking meticulous notes of what I'm supposed to do and when. I started using bottled water, as some people talked about. And I carefully mixed the starter and water before adding the flour. And I searched my house with my thermapen (mine's lime green), looking for the true warmest place in my house. Turns out it's on the top of my dresser in my bedroom; who knew? It maintains a temperature of about 70 - 74 degrees, which is really important when our high temperature outside has lately been around 8 degrees and our main floor is usually in the low to mid 60s. I also talked my husband into letting me keep the temperature set at 65 degrees overnight (usually it drops to 60); he's very agreeable to anything that gets this project over and done with. (Including letting me borrow his beer glasses, since my small mason jars were extremely annoying to clean and I thought, since beer is also made with yeast, that they might give me luck!)

And . . . it seems to be working!!! I have two, yes TWO, starters that are bubbly and seem to be doubling on schedule! Aren't they beautiful?

today (old starter on left; new one on right)

In fact, I decided that my original one was performing well enough to graduate to being used in a barm for my panettone . . . fingers-crossed that it rises as it's supposed to tonight!

Monday, January 25, 2010

#23: Pane Siciliano

I was hoping to bring this bread to my book club on Sunday . . . until I read Saturday morning that it's actually a THREE day bread! Sad news for the book club, happy news for my lunch bunch at work, who got to enjoy a loaf today!

This bread starts with a pâte fermentée (again). Saturday morning, I mixed it with the rest of the ingredients . . . all very similar to past breads, except that this time, the flour included semolina. I also added a little extra vital wheat gluten, as Peter Reinhart suggests using high-gluten flour. Apparently semolina is not high in gluten. I mixed everything up in my KA, and I was glad I did because it was a very tacky dough . . . almost to the point of stickiness. In fact, if I had made this in my earlier bread baking days (when I thought that all dough should be perfectly smooth, not sticky at all), I probably would've added a ton more flour. But I have gotten accustomed to stickier dough, so I let it ferment for a little over an hour and then proceeded to shape it.

This dough was also unusual in its shaping: first into a batard, then a baguette, then curled in to an S.

Then I spritzed it with water, sprinkled it with sesame seeds, and placed the pan into the fridge over night. This morning, I just took it out of the fridge, popped it into the oven, and:

They were beautiful. I think this is probably the most beautiful bread I've ever baked. The crumb was tighter than I was expecting, but the flavor was really nice, almost a little nutty, and the texture was soft and creamy. I would be very happy to make Pane Siciliano again!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Pain de campagne (#22) & Multigrain, take 2

Wahoo for bread #22! I have to admit to feeling both excitement about being over halfway through the book and also a little nervousness . . . whatever will I do when I'm finished?!

I made my pâte fermentée last night and, even though I was really careful to put it in the very back bottom coldest corner of my fridge this time, it had still exploded by this morning. Do we just not keep our fridge cold enough?

After the pâte fermentée had sat out for an hour, I combined it with the rest of the flour (bread and whole wheat), yeast, salt, and water. I mixed it for about three minutes in the stand mixer, but it was really stiff and rocking the mixer all around, so I pulled it out. The dough was really smooth, not tacky at all, so as I kneaded by hand, I kept dipping my hands in water to try to increase the moisture a bit. It never really did get very tacky.

Hubby happened to ask, "What is that windowpane thing?" right as I was checking, so I actually got a picture (not a great one) for once!

I let it rise for two hours, and then divided it into three and proceeded with shaping, which is, of course, what this bread is all about. I divided it unevenly, but didn't want to mess with it, so I formed the two bigger pieces into batards and the smaller into a mini-boule. I turned the batards into an épi and a fendu and the boule into a mini-couronne. The shaping was, hm, how should I put it? Not a success? That would be putting it mildly. I wasn't even going to include a photo, but I will if you promise not to make fun of me.

The fendu and the couronne were really fine except that, even though I pressed the lines twice and filled the depressions with flour both times, they still disappeared after baking. The épi was another story altogether. We were trying to rush out of the house to run errands after nap and bread-baking, but before dinner. It doesn't leave us with a lot of time. So I just hacked away at the baguette-shaped loaf, but couldn't quite figure it out and . . . oh, it just didn't look anything like a sheaf of wheat! Actually, now that I look back at the photo, it looks kind of like a caterpillar. Maybe I should pretend that's what I was making all along . . . .

But the baking went great, and we enjoyed the bread with a pasta e fagioli soup for dinner tonight. I really liked the way the épi broke into little rolls, so I think I'd like to experiment with the shape again . . . some time when I have enough time to be more careful and study what I'm doing!

The texture was unexpected: denser, smaller crumb, softer crust. The flavor was good, nothing fantastic. As hubby said, it's better than anything you'd ever buy at a store around here, but not as good as many of the other breads I've made, and therefore we probably won't make it again. Still, hubby and the baby did manage to polish off the whole épi (okay, I helped a little, too) and part of the mini-couronne.

While I was making the pain de campagne, I also made another loaf of Peter Reinhart's multigrain bread because we were all out of sandwich bread and I've been wanting to give it another try after the disaster last time. For the soaker, I again used wheat bran, polenta, and rolled oats. I actually made it first thing in the morning and made the rest of the bread at night, figuring the ten hours we were out of the house was the equivalent to ten hours overnight.

In the evening, I combined the soaker with the rest of the ingredients: bread flour, salt, yeast, brown sugar, honey, milk, and water. I'd also made some brown rice for dinner last week and frozen a couple of packets to use, so I dropped one of those in, and then added an ounce of flax seeds. When adding the liquid, I tried to avoid the ultra-wet fiasco of last time, and I only added three ounces of milk (instead of the four he calls for) with the six ounces of water. The hydration seemed just about perfect: still pretty tacky, but definitely workable. I let the ingredients rest for about 20 minutes while we did bedtime, and it only took about three or four minutes of kneading for it to come together. So much better than last time!

I also thought about breaking it into two smaller loaves, given how large it grew last time, but I ended up going with my 8 x 4 pan, and it was perfect. It made a beautiful loaf of bread: hubby enjoyed some toast for a snack and the kids had sandwiches for lunch. I really liked the crunch and flavor of the added flax seeds. I just knew this bread had potential; I'm so glad I made it again!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Some notes on BBA #5 and #9

I can't believe that last year at this time, I'd only baked three yeast breads ever and this week alone, I have baked four! I wanted to use my winter break to work on my BBA Challenge and managed to get #20 multigrain bread and #21 pain a l'ancienne finished. I also remade casatiello for our friends' New Year's Eve party and then remade cinnamon buns for a New Year's brunch with a group of my girl friends from high school.

One thing I noticed in my recreations was that it was kind of freeing to bake without photographing every little step. Unlike many of the food bloggers I read, I am not a photographer. I have a little point-and-shoot digital camera that I use mainly for taking quick shots of the kiddos. Although I will admit that after months of perusing food blogs, I have started to get an itch to learn more about photography and perhaps invest in a slightly better camera.....

In fact, while I enjoyed not photographing everything, I couldn't resist snapping a couple of quick pictures of my casatiello, which I attempted in muffin tins (regular size and mini) this time. They were really cute!

When looking back at my original posts for casatiello and cinnamon buns from way early on in the Challenge I was disappointed in myself; while I gave detailed descriptions of how things went for me, I was very reflective on the process, while not including any specifics that would've been helpful to recreate the bread (for example, which ingredients I used when he gives a choice, how long things needed to cook, etc.). Gr. I'm hoping that I've learned my lesson, and that my posts in the future will include more specific concrete details, both to help others who may be reading and to help myself when I want to make a bread again . . . which I most definitely will!

For my own record, here are some notes about try #2 with casatiello:
* 4 oz salami, 1 oz pepperoni, 6 oz provolone
* dough rise: 90 minutes
* 1.5 oz mini-boules for regular muffin tin, 1 oz mini-boules for mini muffin tin
* second rise: 40 minutes for minis, 60 minutes for muffins
* cooked 22 min for regular muffins, 20 min for mini muffins - all overdone!!! 210+ degrees internal temp

Results: Pretty dry and nowhere near as good as I remembered. Is it because they really didn't taste as good as last time or because I've made so many other wonderful breads since then?

Some notes about cinnamon buns:
* used buttermilk (1/2 cup of dry mix; 9 oz water) - way too wet, should've used 8 oz water
* used unsalted butter not shortening
* used bread flour, not all-purpose
* dough took forever to rise; was still really sticky and not as nice to work with as I'd remembered (too much water!)

What I did:
Divided the dough in half. Rolled each piece out to a 9x9 square. Melted 6 tbsp of butter.
On one: Brushed with melted butter. Sprinkled cinnamon and sugar (2 tsp cinnamon + 1 1/2 tbsp sugar - note: try brown sugar next time!).
On the other: Brushed with melted butter. Spread 2-3 tbsp of orange marmalade. Sprinkled 1/4+ c brown sugar. (Adapted from Pioneer Woman's orange marmalade rolls)
Both: Rolled into a log. Divided into 9 - 1 1/4 inch pieces. Put into 9 in round pan lined with parchment paper brushed with melted butter.

I remembered that I didn't really love either the cinnamon bun glaze or the sticky bun caramel from Peter Reinhart, and that I found Pioneer Woman's orange marmalade rolls too sweet.

So I made a base glaze:
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 c whole milk
1/8 tsp kosher salt

I heated these gently in a saucepan and then divided the liquid between two bowls. Into one bowl (for the cinnamon buns), I whisked in 1 cup of powdered sugar, sifted, and 1 tsp vanilla. Into the other bowl (for the orange marmalade rolls), I whisked in 1 cup of powdered sugar, sifted, and 1/4 cup orange juice.

Result: Delicious dough (as I remembered) and much better glaze! Yum yum! I will be making these yet again!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Welcoming in 2010 with Pain à l'Ancienne (BBA #21)

If I had been blogging at the beginning of 2009, I would only have been able to talk about three yeast breads I had ever baked in my life: a loaf of whole wheat back in college, another one when I first received my Kitchen Aid, and an (extremely poor) attempt at cinnamon rolls. None of them turned out especially well.

Last spring, I began reading Smitten Kitchen and found Deb's post about Peter Reinhart's bagels. I had never heard of Peter Reinhart...I read through her descriptions and decided to give bagel-making a try. It was awesome! So I decided to try challah (another recipe that Deb posted). And finally, following a link to another link to another link, I stumbled on Nicole's Pinch My Salt and (more importantly) the link to her Bread Baker's Challenge. I poured over the postings for the first ten or so breads and followed a bunch of links; I read up on Peter Reinhart. In short, I became a little obsessed and after about a week of this, I decided to order my own copy of the book. On August 31, I baked my first Challenge Bread.

And now, here I am, welcoming in the new year with bread #21, pain à l'ancienne. According to Peter Reinhart, "The technique by which this bread is made has tremendous implications for the baking industry and for both professional and home bakers....As in any facet of life, this is an exciting place to find oneself, like standing on the end of the world, facing the wods, as so often showed up on ancient maps, 'Unknown Kingdoms Be Here'" (p. 191). He calls pain à l'ancienne "magic," "very special," and "another level" of baguettte (p. 19 - 23).

Pain à l'Ancienne is all about delayed fermentation. The method is unlike anything I have ever read about or tried and, after reading some very mixed reviews from other BBA bloggers, I was a lot excited and a little apprehensive about trying it.

I started with bread flour (I finally picked up some more King Arthur; didn't want to mess around with this all-important bread!), yeast, salt, and ice water. Yep, I had to ice my water until it hit 40 degrees before mixing it with the rest of the ingredients. I added the starting amount: 19 ounces.

I mixed it for about a minute with the paddle until it all came together and then switched to the dough hook for a little under 5 minutes. This is supposed to be an incredibly sticky dough. People talked about having to pour it, like liquid, out of the measuring bowl. Peter Reinhart says, "This dough is very it is best made in an electric mixer....The dough should be sticky on the bottom of the bowl but it should release from the sides...."

If I were making any other bread dough, I would've been ecstatic at how my dough was behaving. It quickly cleared the sides and the bottom of the bowl, forming a perfect ball. But this dough was supposed to be sticky. I drizzled in some more ice water. And then some more. And then some more.

Finally, I got it to sort of stick to the sides.

I poured it into my new 8 cup measuring cup - purchased so it would be easier to tell when the dough had doubled - and put it immediately into the fridge.

Here it got weird again. Everyone else posted about how their dough did not rise at all in the fridge. One person even wrote about their dough seeming to deflate. However, when I checked on mine the next morning, it had clearly doubled already! Is it because I didn't put it in the back of my fridge? Because we open our fridge too often? Is the fridge not set cold enough? Is it because I just opened a fresh new jar of yeast? I don't know, but I searched and searched to try to determine what to do and couldn't find anyone else talking about this happening.

So, knowing that with some other doughs that double too quickly, Peter Reinhart suggests lightly kneading them to degas them and then letting them rise again, that is exactly what I did. About three hours later, it had doubled again.

I poured it onto my counter covered with 1/2 cup of flour (this time, it literally poured) and tried to stretch it into an oblong. It wasn't very successful.

But I proceeded. I dipped my bench scraper into cold water and used it to divide my dough into six pieces. And then transferred the pieces onto a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper and semolina. I attempted to score them with my usual razor blade; didn't work. So I tried the scissor technique mentioned in the book; way easier. Knowing we wouldn't have time to eat the bread that day (it was just a couple of hours before our New Year's Eve party), I covered the two sheets with plastic wrap and put them in the fridge.

I took them out this morning, dying of curiosity. They hadn't grown much, if at all, so I was happy about that. I let them sit on the counter for a little over an hour while I prepared my oven for hearth baking. Hubby and I have quite a system in place for team-hearth-baking, and I'll say that it's way easier than trying to do it on my own! It went better this time than ever before: our loaves turned out much more golden than they've been in the past.

17 - 18 minutes at 475 degrees and the bread registered 210 degrees...pretty close to perfect. Luckily we only had to wait 20 minutes before digging in. I could not believe the size of the holes! Definitely my biggest success so far.

This bread was yummy: it's amazing how the simple ingredients of flour, water, salt, and yeast can develop into such a creamy, buttery, rich taste sensation. And surprisingly (to me - I always prefer my bread warm enough to melt butter), when we had some more bread a while later (the bread only came out of the oven four hours ago and we've already devoured two loaves), it was even better.

Hubby's comment? "You haven't wowed me with a bread in a long time, but WOW."