Meeting Nancy

One of the things I like about being a member of several bake-and-blog-along groups (Modern Baker Challenge, French Fridays with Dorie, Bake!) is that I get to meet so many cool and interesting people. Of course, we “meet” by following each other’s blogs, Tweeting, e-mailing, etc. We keep up on each other’s baking and cooking adventures, for sure, but we also talk about our spouses, kids, jobs, other hobbies, you name it.  It’s amazing how well you can get to know someone 140 characters at a time.

It’s fun to have friends (and, yes, they are my friends) all over the world. But it’s also fun to meet them in person from time to time.

One of those opportunities came up the other day when my friend Nancy Tweeted to say she was passing through my area the next evening and would love to get together if I had the time. J had been out the day before, so she wasn’t up to hosting, but she didn’t mind if I went out. So the next evening, Nancy and I met at TGI Fridays.

I ask you, which one of us appears to have been on the road for 11 hours?

We spent an hour or two drinking Guinness milkshakes, chatting, laughing,  and getting to know one another better. We talked about our families, cooking, baking, and our other online friends. Even though this was our first in-person meeting, it was more like catching up with an old friend than meeting someone new.

 
Thanks for taking the time to stop by for a bit, Nancy. I enjoyed passing the evening with you. We’ll have to do it again soon.

Ginger-Scented Panettone {ModBak}

My second assigned blog post for the Yeast-Risen Specialties section of the Modern Baker Challenge is Ginger-Scented Panettone. I’m not sure why I picked this recipe, as I don’t have much experience with panettone. In fact, until I made Peter Reinhart’s Panettone recipe for the BBA Challenge, I had never even tasted panettone. But I really liked PR’s recipe, and since we would be baking from this section during the holiday season, Ginger-Scented Panettone seemed like a festive choice.

In the introduction to this recipe, Nick Malgieri notes that in Italy panettone is generally made with sourdough starter, although his recipe calls for a yeast-based sponge. One advantage to using sourdough is that the bread stays fresh longer and won’t get moldy as quickly. Since I keep two sourdough starters in the refrigerator and it was time to get them out to feed them anyway, I decided to make my panettone with a mixed method, using sourdough starter and some yeast.

Using baker’s math, I calculated the hydration of the sponge and fed my sourdough starter accordingly. I let the sponge ferment for about eight hours, until it was nice and bubbly. Rather than using yeast in the sponge, I added it to the dough. Since I was using instant yeast instead of active dry yeast, I added the yeast along with the flour.

After the sponge was ready, I gathered my ingredients. I was feeling a bit lazy, so I cheated on the minced ginger.

As you might guess from the name, I picked this jar of ginger up at an Indian grocery. I really like this stuff and use it just about anytime a recipe calls for freshly-grated ginger. It comes in a two-pound jar, so it lasts forever, and it stays fresh in the fridge. And speaking of ginger, I found this candied ginger at World Market. It’s fresh and chewy, not all hard and dried out like the stuff you get in the grocery store. And it’s a lot less expensive, too.

I mixed up the dough, which, in addition to the ginger, is flavored with lemon zest and vanilla. Unlike a traditional panettone, this dough isn’t loaded with fruit, containing only golden raisins and no candied fruit or peel. After the dough was mixed up, I put it into a buttered bowl and let it ferment.

The dough rose for about two hours, until it had doubled in volume.

By using a combination of sourdough starter and commercial yeast, I got the advantages of each. The starter enabled me to achieve a longer lasting, more flavorful dough, while the commercial yeast made the dough rise on a more predictable schedule.

After the dough had fermented, I put it in my panettone mold. Based on my previous panettone misadventure, I decided to put the dough into two molds. However, as soon as I had shaped and panned the dough, I could tell that two molds were too many, so I took the dough from one mold and plopped it on top of the dough in the other mold.

I was a bit concerned that the dough might outgrow the paper mold, but I decided to try it anyway, as I didn’t want squat little boules like I had the first time I made panettone. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried, as the dough didn’t quite fill the mold when it proofed, and it baked up perfectly.

Before I baked the loaf, I brushed the top with a little egg wash and sprinkled it with finishing sugar. I liked the way it looked, and it gave the bread just a hint of extra sweetness, along with a nice crunch.

This was a really nice bread. The ginger flavor was definitely in the forefront, but it wasn’t overwhelming. And I liked the fact that it had the golden raisins in it but wasn’t overloaded with candied citrus peel or unnaturally-colored fruit.

Anyone who grew up eating panettone during the holiday season will probably find this a nice diversion from the standard loaf. And if you’ve never been a panettone fan, or perhaps have never even tried it, this would be a nice introduction to this Italian holiday tradition.

Buon Natale!

Neglected Sourdough Starter

A lot of people have written to tell me that my foolproof sourdough starter has worked for them. Many of them had tried numerous times to create their own starter, only to give up at some point in the process. Following my tutorial, though, they’ve found what others have discovered: anyone can create a successful sourdough starter.

Once they have their starters going, the question I get most often from people is, “How do I keep it alive, especially if I don’t bake that often?” Or, more often, the question goes something like this: “I forgot about/didn’t use/neglected my starter for several weeks. It’s all greyish and nasty looking. Did I kill it?”

The good news is, it’s almost impossible to kill a healthy starter. They can take a lot of abuse and neglect and still bounce back. And believe me, I know this from experience.

As noted in my tutorial, I keep my starter in the refrigerator, since I don’t bake with it all the time. When I was first learning to bake sourdough bread, I baked with my starter every week, keeping it in the fridge between bakings. Since I was baking weekly, my starter was being fed at least once each week.

When I ventured into other types of baking, I found I wasn’t using my starter as often. I still fed it weekly, but eventually that became every few weeks, and sometimes even longer.

A few weeks ago, I realized I hadn’t even seen my starter for about three or four weeks, so I dug it out of the fridge to feed it. This is what I found:

The greyish liquid floating on top of the starter is called “hooch”. It’s basically just dead yeast cells. When my starter has a little hooch on the top, I stir it back in before feeding the starter. In this case, I poured it off.

If you read the starter tutorial, you’ll note that I generally feed my starter at a 1:1:1 (starter:water:flour) ratio. If I know I won’t be using it for a while, I might feed it at a higher ratio, sometimes as much as 1:3:3, to give the yeast more fresh food to work on while it sits in the fridge. In this case, I wanted to ease the starter back to an active state, so I stuck with a 1:1:1 feeding.

Within 12 hours, my severely neglected starter had come back to life and was bubbling away happily on the counter.

Since I had neglected it for so long, I gave it two more 12-hour feedings before returning it to the fridge. I haven’t baked with it since I fed it, so I got it out today to feed it up again. Because it was well-fed and active the last time I got it out, this time it didn’t look so bad.

So don’t worry if your starter has been sitting, neglected in the back of the fridge. Chances are, if you take it out and give it a few feedings, it will spring right back to life and be as good as new.

Prosciutto/Lebanon Bologna Bread {ModBak}

The next recipe I tackled in the Breads section of the Modern Baker Challenge was Prosciutto Bread. I have committed myself to baking all the recipe in the book, so there was no escaping this one, but it did present a dilemma. I don’t eat pork products, so I was left with the choice between making a bread I couldn’t eat or finding a substitution for the prosciutto. Faced with a similar problem during the BBA Challenge when baking Casatiello, I used Lebanon bologna in place of salami with great results. So I decided to do the same thing here, substituting Seltzer’s Beef Lebanon Bologna for the prosciutto.

If you’ve never had Lebanon bologna, it is similar to trail bologna — smoky and slightly sweet. But unlike trail bologna, it is the size of regular bologna and is usually sliced thin for sandwiches. One of my family’s favorite ways to eat Lebanon bologna is to fry the slices briefly in a skillet then eat them on a sandwich.

Other than the addition of meat to the dough, this is a fairly straightforward enriched bread that consists of flour, salt, sugar, ground black pepper, yeast, water, and olive oil. I recalled that when Kayte baked this recipe, she observed that the bread was too salty. Lebanon bologna isn’t as heavily salted as prosciutto, but it is still fairly salty, so I cut the salt in the recipe back from 1 1/2 teaspoons to a scant teaspoon. The amount of pepper — 1 tablespoon — seemed like a lot to me, but I went with it, grinding pepper into a tablespoon measure before adding it to the rest of the dry ingredients.

The main thing that distinguished this bread from Casatiello was that the Prosciutto Bread doesn’t have any cheese in it. I was a bit leery of this, as the gooey cheesiness was one of the things that made the Casatiello one of my favorite recipes in the BBA Challenge. But I wanted to stay as true to the recipe as I could, so I made it without cheese.

After mixing the dry ingredients, I combined the water, yeast, and oil in a measuring cup, then added them to the dry ingredients and mixed until the dough was evenly moistened. I then folded in the Lebanon bologna. After a brief autolyse, I folded the dough in the bowl with a bench scraper about 20 times. Then I put the dough in an oiled bowl to ferment.

The dough took about an hour and a half to double. The recipe suggests shaping the dough into batards but also gives the option of making braided loaves. I decided to do one of each. I shaped half the dough into a batard, then divided the remaining dough into two pieces and did a two-strand braid.

The dough proofed for almost two hours, until it doubled. Meanwhile, I preheated the oven to 400° F.

I baked the loaves for 30 minutes — the recipe says 40 — at which time the internal temperature was 195° F and the crust was golden brown. The bread smelled amazing while it baked: there is nothing like the smell of Lebanon bologna while it cooks. It reminded me of Casatiello, and I was really excited to try it.

I let the loaves cool for a few minutes before slicing into the braid. The crumb was soft and studded with bits of meat.

I eagerly grabbed a slice of bread, slathered it with lightly salted cultured butter, and took a bite. It was good. A bit too peppery, but otherwise really good. I ate about five slices for dinner and was perfectly satisfied.

But it did seem like there was something missing. Then it occurred to me — it needed a slice of cheese. So in the end, it was almost as good as Casatiello and might have been just as good if, like the BBA bread, it had cheese added to it.

Moral of the story:  if you’re going to add meat to bread, you might as well add cheese, too.

A Big Day for Peter Reinhart

When I was at Notre Dame Law School, I visited the office of Professor Charlie Rice. Among his many travels, Prof. Rice had been to Rome, and he had a picture of himself with the Pope hanging on his wall. When I commented on the photo, Prof. Rice said, “Oh, yes. It was a very big day for His Holiness.”

I would like to think that last Monday, June 21, was similarly a big day for Peter Reinhart. He came to the Western Reserve School of Cooking in Hudson, Ohio, to teach three classes from his new book, Artisan Breads Every Day. I was fortunate to be able to attend the first class on Monday evening.

Peter signed books and talked with participants before and after the class and was very engaged throughout the evening. He had three assistants, two ovens baking, and countless hearth breads, sticky buns, babkas, rolls, challahs, and crumb cakes going into and out of the ovens the whole time, yet he never lost focus or seemed the slightest bit distracted.

As I mentioned above, Peter was demonstrating recipes and techniques from his new book. Among these techniques is the use of minimal dough handling (i.e., no long kneading sessions) and retarding, or holding the dough in the refrigerator to develop flavor and allow you to bake on your own schedule.

In the picture above, Peter is demonstrating a stretch-and-fold, which is where, rather than kneading the dough, you stretch it out and fold it over itself several times at timed intervals. This works surprisingly well at mixing the ingredients and developing gluten.

We sampled three different kinds of sticky buns:  Philadelphia sticky buns, honey almond sticky buns, and creamy caramel buns with dried cranberries and pecans. Having grown up in Eastern Pennsylvania, I know a thing or two about sticky buns. All three recipes were fantastic. The Philadelphia buns tasted just like what we used to get in Lancaster County. The caramel buns were delicious, especially with the crunch of pecans and slightly tart sweetness of cranberries. But I think my favorite were the honey almond buns.

 

I don’t recall ever having had babka before this class. Peter’s ingredients were great — how can you go wrong with chocolate and cinnamon? But it was the technique that really impressed me. He pressed out the dough, spread it with the filling, and rolled it up, like you might with cinnamon-swirl bread. Then, using what is known as the kranz shaping method, he cut the loaf lengthwise, turned each half so that the cut side was facing up, and twisted the two pieces together. The effect was beautiful.

He also demonstrated two-, three-, four-, five-, and six-strand challah braids. Here is the two-strand:

As you can probably tell, I had a great time meeting and learning from Peter Reinhart. He is a world-class baker, a natural teacher, and a down-to-earth guy.

And he makes a mean sticky bun.

Herringbone — It’s Not Just For Tweed Anymore (or How to Cut a Boule)

So, you’ve been baking artisan breads for some time now, and you’ve finally learned how to consistently shape a nice boule. “Now”, you wonder, “how do I cut it?” Sure, you could just slice it like any other loaf, from one side to the other. But then you’ll end up with small pieces at the ends of the loaf and giant slices from the middle.

If only there was a way to cut nice, evenly-sized slices the whole way through the loaf….

Take heart, home baker, there is! All you need is a herringbone cut. Now, that may sound like some exotic technique only available to master bakers. But I’m here to tell (and show) you that you can do this at home. And you don’t need any special skills or equipment to accomplish beautiful, even slices.

So here is a simple, easy-to-follow picture tutorial that will have you slicing your boules like a pro.

First, cut a slice like you normally would. How easy is that?

Then turn your loaf counterclockwise slightly less than 90° and make another slice. Note how that end of slice #2 overlaps the first slice just slightly.

For the third slice, rotate the loaf clockwise and make the slice where you made slice #1.

Counterclockwise again for slice #4, from where you made slice #2. Back to the beginning position for slice #5, and so on.

And if you’re wondering why it’s called a herringbone cut, here is the partially sliced loaf reassembled:

See how the slices overlap like herringbone?

That’s all there is to it. Pretty cool, huh? Now, go bake a boule so you can try it yourself!

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice — The Challenge Takes Its Toll

Although I had been baking from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice for about a year before beginning the BBA Challenge, my book was still in pretty good shape. In fact, about three months into the Challenge, the book still looked OK, as can be seen in this photo.

By the end of the Challenge, it was a different story. Here’s how the book looks now.

It’s sort of the Velveteen Rabbit of cookbooks. Well worn. Well-used. Well loved.

I wonder what The Modern Baker will look like when I finish baking my way through it.

Roasted Onion and Asiago Miche — BBA, The Final Chapter

The final bread in the BBA Challenge is a whopper. In fact, if you make the whole recipe, you’ll end up with almost 6 pounds of dough. Which is why I made a half recipe, which still made one huge miche.

This is a 3-day bread. On the first day, I fed Edwina (my second sourdough starter) and made a sponge. I also roasted the onion in the oven.

When you start weighing your onions, you may have been baking too much

 

The onions smelled so good roasting, I wasn’t sure I could wait 2 days to eat them. Once they cooled, I put them in the refrigerator. My sponge was developing slowly, so I left it out on the counter overnight.

The next day, I mixed the dough, which consisted of flour, yeast, water, salt, the sponge, olive oil, chives, cheese, and scallions. The half-recipe calls for 8 ounces of Asiago cheese, half of which goes into the dough. I used a mix of 4 different cheeses: Asiago, Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, and Parmesano Reggiano. Between the cheeses, chives, and other ingredients, this was easily the most expensive bread in the BBA Challenge. I think I sunk over $20 in ingredients into this dough.

By cutting the recipe in half, I was able to mix it in my Kitchen Aid. It still made a lot of dough.

The dough fermented for about 3 hours, until it had doubled in size.

I formed the loaf into a miche, placed it on a sheet pan, then put it in the fridge overnight.

The next day, I took the dough out of the refrigerator and let it rest for about 2 hours. This allowed the dough to come close to room temperature and to rise a bit more. At the end of the proofing period, I brushed the dough with olive oil and dimpled it with my fingers, then sprinkled on the rest of the cheese and the roasted onions.

I baked the loaves with steam in a reducing oven until the internal temperature reached 195 dF. The onions roasted a bit too dark for my taste. The next time I make this bread, I’ll cover it with foil after about 10 to 15 minutes of baking.

This bread was delicious. The cheese and onions gave it a distinct flavor. This was not a timid bread, content to play second fiddle to a main dish. This is a bread that craves, no demands, the spotlight. It would be good with vegetable soup or another sidekick kind of dish. But it really shines on its own.

My wife pronounced it one of her favorite BBA breads. I would have to agree.

Life after the BBA Challenge

The question on a lot of minds is, so, now what? Paul at Yumarama is forming a Mellow Bakers Group; one in which people will bake together at a relaxed pace. First up is Hot Cross Buns. Check out Paul’s blog for details.

As for me, I’m setting off on another long baking journey. I’ll be working my way through Nick Malgieri’s The Modern Baker, a collection of about 150 recipe covering quick breads, yeast breads, tarts, pies, and cakes.

The Modern Baker Challenge will kick off around the beginning of April. If you’re interested, pick up a copy of Nick’s book, start reading the introductory sections, and check out the ModBak blog for details.

Potatoes and Cheddar and Chives — Oh, My!

Having recently baked one really good (Vienna), two so-so (Pain de Mie and Whole Wheat), and one yuck (Tuscan) breads in the past few weeks, I had high hopes for the 42nd and next-to-last recipe in the BBA Challenge, Potato, Cheddar, and Chive Torpedoes. In fact, I will admit to expecting a lot out of the last two recipes in the book. After months of baking, with mostly great results and only a few duds, I really hope to go out with a bang here. And if this bread is any indication, PR will not disappoint.

One of the interesting things about this bread is that it uses both sourdough starter and yeast to leaven the bread. The sourdough starter (which PR incorrectly refers to as a “barm”) is built from the Mother Starter. The recipe requires 10.5 ounces of starter. The starter recipe, on the other hand, yields 39 ounces. Time for baker’s math again. By using 1.9 ounces of starter and 4.3 ounces each of flour and water, I ended up with exactly 10.5 ounces of 100% hydration starter for the recipe.

I prepared my starter the evening before I planned to bake and let it sit out at room temperature overnight. The next day, I chopped and boiled Yukon gold potatoes, then let the potatoes and potato water cool to room temperature. I decided to use Yukon gold, as I thought they would give the crumb a nice color. While the potatoes and water were cooling, I chopped the chives and assembled my mise en place.

I bought the chives in a small package at the grocery store. When I got them home and started chopping them, I realized that my $2.59 got me only 2/3 ounce of chives. And by the time I culled out the bad ones, I had about 1/2 ounce left! It killed me to realize that within a few months I’ll have chives coming out my ears in the garden. In fact, the chives often poke out through the snow early in the Spring.

OK, enough of my chive rant, back to the bread. I mixed 1/2 of the flour, 1/2 cup of the potato water, the potatoes, yeast, and starter just until the flour was hydrated. I allowed this “shag” to sit for about half an hour.

Then I added the rest of the flour, the salt, and just under 1/2  cup of potato water and kneaded the dough for about six minutes with my Kitchen Aid. I added the chives and mixed another two minutes. The dough was very tacky, bordering on sticky. I put it in an oiled bowl and turned it to coat the dough with oil.

After a 90-minute ferment, the dough had more than doubled in size.

I dumped the dough out onto my Roul’Pat, divided it in half, and patted one half into a rectangle. I layed out half of the cheddar cheese on the dough, leaving the edges uncovered.

I rolled the dough into a batard, sealed the edges, then tapered the ends to make a torpedo shape. Then I repeated this with the second loaf.

I misted the torpedoes with spray oil, covered them with a towel, and allowed them to rest for one hour. About 15 minutes into the proofing period, I began preheating my oven to 500 dF with a steam pan on the bottom shelf.

Just before loading the bread into the oven, I boiled some water and slashed the loaves, being sure to cut down to the first layer of cheese.

I was a little nervous about this part. I’m a pretty good slasher, but I have never worried too much about the depth of my cuts. I was afraid they would be too shallow and require a second or third slash to get down to the cheese. I needn’t have worried. As you can see, one slash was all it took, and they were ready to bake.

I loaded the loaves into the oven, poured a cup of boiling water into the steam pan, closed the oven door, and reduced the temperature to 450 dF. I don’t bother with spraying the oven walls at 30-second intervals, as I can’t discern any difference in the loaves one way or the other. I think the steam pan works fine for creating the proper amount of steam in the oven.

I baked the loaves for about 20 minutes and rotated them 180 degrees. I inserted a probe thermometer into one of the loaves, and was surprised to find that it was already over 200 degrees in the center. The recipe said the torpedoes would take 35 to 40 minutes to bake, but mine were done after 20 minutes.

The loaves looked and smelled amazing. The cheddar bubbling out through the slashes was especially striking.

I honestly wasn’t sure if I could wait 45 minutes before slicing into this bread. But wait I did. When I sliced the first torpedo, the crumb, with its spiral of sharp cheddar cheese, was as beautiful and enticing as the loaf had been coming out of the oven.

And the flavor? Well, let’s just say that I finished half the loaf standing in the kitchen before I thought to offer any to the rest of the family. I had more this afternoon toasted. It was like eating the best grilled cheese sandwich you’ve ever tasted right out of the toaster.

This was easily my favorite bread in the past few months of the BBA Challenge. In fact, it ranks up there with Casatiello as one of the top breads in the book!

Up next: Roasted Onion and Asiago Miche, the final bread in the Challenge.

BBA Whole Wheat Bread — In a Word, Meh

I promised myself I wouldn’t let the weekend pass without writing my blog post for BBA Challenge bread #41, Whole Wheat Bread. I think I’ve been putting it off because I found this bread just so-so. It’s easier to write about a recipe when you have strong feelings about it — good or bad. This bread wasn’t bad; but it wasn’t great either.

The problem with most 100% whole grain breads for me is that they tend to be really heavy, and they don’t rise very well. This bread was no exception. The flavor was OK. But the bread was dense and too chewy.

Here are pictures of the baking process. You’ll note that I wasn’t inspired enough by the final product to take pictures of the finished loaves.

The recipe starts with an overnight soaker, for which I used whole wheat flour and wheat germ.

The dough begins with a whole wheat poolish.

The dough is placed in an oiled bowl and allowed to ferment for 2 hours.

After fermenting, the dough is divided and shaped.

The dough is shaped into loaves and placed in oiled loaf pans. After a 90-minute rise, the loaves are baked at 350 for about 45 minutes.

So, that’s whole wheat bread in a nutshell. Onto Potato, Cheddar, and Chive Torpedoes, which are getting rave reviews from those who have baked them: Paul at Yumarama; Oggi at I Can Do That.

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