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.