Crème Fraîche {Recipe}

I recently made blini with smoked salmon and crème fraîche from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table. And, as always when I make a recipe calling for crème fraîche, I looked at the price of it in the store and decided to make my own. Dorie has a recipe for crème fraîche in her book, and there are lots of recipes available online. My method differs slightly from other recipes I’ve seen and is based on my experience making it numerous times.

I start with 1 cup whipping cream and 2 tablespoons buttermilk. Most recipes recommend using pasteurized, rather than ultra-pasteurized, whipping cream. But because ultra-pasteurized is the only kind I can regularly find, that’s what I use.

I heat the cream and buttermilk to about 100˚ to 110˚F. I find that heating the ingredients gives the culturing process a jump start.

Next, I cover the container with plastic wrap and leave it on the counter for 36 to 48 hours, stirring once or twice per day. 

I let the cream culture until it thickens and gets tangy. It won’t be quite as thick as sour cream, but it will continue to thicken in the refrigerator.

I put a tight-fitting lid on the container and store it in the fridge. It will keep for about 2 weeks and will continue to get tangier during that time.

For my money, homemade crème fraîche is every bit as good as store bought at less than half the price. Once you make it, you’ll find all sorts of things to do with it, like this:

Crème Fraîche

 Ingredients

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons buttermilk

Directions

  1. Heat cream and buttermilk in a small saucepan to about 110˚F.
  2. Put cream mixture in clean container, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and allow to culture at room temperature for 36 to 48 hours, stirring several times per day, until thickened and tangy.
  3. Cover container tightly and store in refrigerator.

Yields 1 cup. Best used within 2 weeks.

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Grissini: Classic Italian Breadsticks (ModBak)

This week’s entry for the Modern Baker Challenge is Grissini, or Italian Breadsticks. These breadsticks are very simple to make, containing only flour, water, salt, olive oil, and active dry yeast. The recipe calls for both warm and cold water — warm to activate the yeast; cold to cool the dough in the food processor.

Because I was using instant yeast, I didn’t have to dissolve it in water first, so I mixed the yeast with the flour, salt, and olive oil in the food processor, then added all cold water. The recipe makes 24 breadsticks, but I didn’t want that many, so I halved the recipe. After mixing the dough, I put it in an oiled container to ferment.

I let the dough proof for about an hour, until it had doubled in volume.

After the dough had fermented, I put it in the refrigerator to chill. The recipe says to refrigerate the dough from one to 24 hours. I wanted to bake the Grissini with dinner the next day, so I left the dough in the fridge for about 22 hours. The next day, I took the dough out of the fridge, pressed it into a rectangle, and cut it into 12 pieces.

I rolled each piece of dough into a roughly 15-inch cylinder and put them on a baking sheet.

I baked the breadsticks in a 325°F oven for about 25 minutes, until they were golden and crispy. I let the Grissini cool on the pan, then put them in a tall glass for serving.

I served the Grissini with Dorie Greenspan’s Potato Gratin. The breadsticks were crisp and light and paired perfectly with a meal. They could easily be spiced up by adding herbs to the dough or by topping them with sesame seeds or cracked pepper. But I liked them the way the were — crisp, crunchy, and delicious.

Brioches — Bubble-Top and Loaves {AMFT}

French Fridays with Dorie, the new cooking group dedicated to making weekly recipes from Dorie Greenspan‘s latest book, Around My French Table, doesn’t officially launch until October. The first months’ recipes, chosen for us by Dorie herself, look really great and should be a nice introduction to the book for most people. I, of course, couldn’t wait for the launch of FFwD, so I set out to make a few recipes from AMFT on my own.

The first recipe I tried, Eggplant Caviar, was a hit and had me ready to try more. For my second recipe, I decided to make something I already know and love, Brioche. Having made all three brioche recipes from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, I had an idea what to expect from the dough and resulting bread.

Dorie’s recipe differs from Peter Reinhart’s recipes in that, instead of a sponge, it uses overnight fermentation to develop flavor. As far as butter content, it seems to be somewhere between PR’s Poor Man’s and Middle-Class Brioches.

The dough mixed up fairly quickly in the Kitchen Aid, and after resting for an hour on the counter, it was ready to chill overnight. The next day it looked like this:

There are two shaping options given in the recipe — bubble-top brioches and brioche loaves — and I decided to try them both. The bubble-top brioches are individual brioches made by dropping three small dough balls into brioche molds or cupcake tins.

The loaf is shaped by dividing the dough into four pieces, shaping each into a log, and arranging the logs in the pan.

The loaves proofed for about an hour-and-a-half, until the dough filled the pans.

The bubble-top brioches baked for about 20 minutes; the loaf for about 30, until they were golden brown and well-risen.

The brioches were delicious — buttery and light. They compared quite favorably to PR’s Middle-Class Brioche, my favorite of the three. In fact, I would have to try Dorie’s and PR’s loaves side by side to choose a favorite.

This is definitely a recipe to make again, and another winner from Dorie’s French table.

Cornetti: Olive Oil Rolls from Bologna {ModBak}

The final recipe in the Breads section of the Modern Baker Challenge is Cornetti, a uniquely-shaped dinner roll. When shaped correctly, they look like two croissants criss-crossed over one another. Mine more closely resembled little voodoo dolls.

Other than the shaping, this is a fairly simple recipe, consisting of flour, yeast, water, salt, olive oil, and sugar. I mixed the ingredients in the Kitchen Aid, let them autolyse for a few minutes, and mixed some more. After turning the dough out into an oiled bowl, I covered it and let it ferment for about an hour.

When the dough had risen, I divided into six pieces (I made a half recipe), shaped each piece into a ball, and let the dough balls rest for a few minutes.

After the dough had relaxed a bit, I began rolling it out. I found it required another short rest to relax enough to get the dough balls rolled out to 12″ x 3 1/2″ rectangles.

Nick Malgieri says to roll out all the dough at once, then begin shaping it; but I don’t have that much counter space, so I shaped the rolls one at a time. After rolling the dough into a rectangle, I cut the dough corner to corner with a pizza wheel, then flipped one piece of dough so the points were touching.

I brushed the dough with olive oil, then rolled each side from the wide edge to the center, making two connected croissant-shaped rolls.

I lifted the rolls to the baking pan. As I was setting them on the pan, I crossed one roll over the other.

I rolled and shaped the remaining dough, then allowed the rolls to proof for about 45 minutes. I baked the rolls in a 400° oven for about 25 minutes, until they were puffed, golden, and slightly firm to the touch.

The rolls smelled really good coming out of the oven. My shaping left a bit to be desired, but I think with a little experience, these would be really impressive dinner rolls.

As for taste, they were really good. Because of the crescent shape, I was expecting them to be light and fluffy. They weren’t. The texture was what you would expect from a typical dinner roll. Again, not what I expected, but really tasty, especially with homemade plum jam.

I wonder how it would be to make this shape with croissant dough? I might have to try that when we get to croissants.

For now, I’m ready to move onto the next section of the Challenge, Yeast-Risen Specialties, Sweet and Savory. We will be baking in this section for the rest of the year. There are some great holiday recipes like brioche, babka, and ginger-scented panettone. So if you’ve thought about joining the Modern Baker Challenge, this would be a great time to dive in.

Semolina Sesame Braid {ModBak}

My most recent foray into the Modern Baker Challenge was the Semolina Sesame Braid featured on page 82 of The Modern Baker. I approached this recipe with a bit of trepidation. I’m not a huge fan of using semolina flour in bread. It’s great for pasta, which is what it is generally used for. But I find it too gritty for baking. And several of the bakers who have made this recipe (including Sara, the official blogger for this bread) have reported that the dough is too wet to work with, especially when it comes to braiding. But I have vowed to make every recipe in the book, so I forged ahead.

I began by mixing the ingredients — AP and semolina flours, salt, yeast, and water — in my Kitchen Aid mixer.

As with the other breads in this section of the book, this recipe utilizes minimal mixing and autolyse to develop the dough.

As you can see, this dough was really slack. In fact, based on the weight of the AP and semolina flours, I calculated the hydration of this dough at 95% — way too wet to shape, let alone braid. When I reread Sara’s post, I realized that she added extra flour, a lot of extra flour. Unfortunately, by the time I read this, I had already mixed the dough.

I set the dough aside to ferment and decided to develop it by doing a few stretch-and-folds at 20-minute intervals. During the first one, I worked a bit of additional flour into the dough. This helped a bit, as did the extra stretch-and-folds, but the dough was still very slack.

At this point, I didn’t want to try to work any more flour into the dough, but I did liberally flour both the work surface and the top of the dough. This enabled me to divide the dough into three pieces, stretch them out, and braid them.

I sprayed the top of the dough with water, sprinkled it with sesame seeds, and set it aside to proof for an hour.

I baked the loaf for about 35 minutes in a 400-degree oven, until it was golden brown and firm to the touch.

After the bread cooled, I sliced it and ate it with some homemade butter.

Final verdict: it was better than I expected, and the sesame seeds gave it a nice, nutty flavor. It’s still not one of my favorite breads; and I doubt I will make it again. But then, I have yet to find a semolina bread that’s worth repeating.

Sticky Buns — Artisan Breads Every Day

After meeting Peter Reinhart at the Western Reserve School of Cooking and sampling a host of his baked goods, including two kinds of sticky buns, I couldn’t wait for an excuse to do some baking. The Fourth of July holiday weekend — with family visiting from out of town — gave me just such an excuse.

Although I tested recipes for Peter’s most recent book,  Artisan Breads Every Day, and of course picked up the book as soon as it came out, before the class I still hadn’t baked anything from it. I decided to remedy that by making two kinds of sticky buns for breakfast on Saturday. I made one recipe of sticky buns, and baked half of them with Susan’s (Peter’s wife) formerly secret caramel pecan slurry and the other half with honey almond slurry.

As with many of the recipes in Peter’s new book, the sweet dough came together quickly with very little mixing. It is kept at least overnight or up to a few days in the refrigerator, where it ferments and develops its structure. I also mixed up the slurries, so that on baking day all I had to do was throw it all together.

On Saturday morning I got the dough out of the fridge, cut it into two pieces, and let it rest for about 20 minutes while I prepared the cinnamon-sugar mixture and melted some butter. I rolled each half of the dough out to a 12- x 15-inch rectangle, brushed it with butter, and sprinkled it generously with cinnamon sugar. Then I rolled the dough up from the long side and sliced it into rolls.

I had to soften the slurries in the microwave for a few seconds, as they firmed up to the point of being impossible to spread. Then I slathered the slurries in 9-inch round baking pans and added the buns.

I let the sticky buns rise for about two hours, until they had risen to fill the pans, then prepared the oven for baking.

At first, I forgot to set the pans on a sheet pan to catch any overflow, but I remembered before the slurry boiled over into the oven. The buns took longer to bake than the recipe suggested. In class, Peter stressed the importance of checking to slurry to make sure it has caramelized before taking the rolls out of the oven.

As you can see from the picture, I had pretty good caramelization, with the exception of the very center of the buns made with Susan’s slurry (on the right).

When I pulled the pan out of the oven, it was like I had turned on a bug light for everyone in the house. Within a few minutes, when I was ready to cut them, everyone in my and my sister’s families was standing in my kitchen with anticipation. And once I began serving? Well, no one left the kitchen until both pans of sticky buns were completely gone.

Forgiving my lack of modesty, my sticky buns were every bit as good as the ones we sampled in class. And even though I grew up in Lancaster County, PA, eating traditional sticky buns much like Susan’s recipe, I have to say that I preferred the subtle sweetness of the honey almond buns. But it was such a close call that I think I have to make both of them again just to be sure.

Oh, and there’s one more version in the book I haven’t made yet — creamy caramel. I feel it is my duty to give it a try, too.

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.

Pain de Mie (A Fancy Name for White Bread)

As fate would have it, as we near the end of our Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge journey, in which we have baked everything from French and Italian breads to celebration breads to breads filled with meat and cheese, for the fortieth bread in the Challenge, we hit on a very simple (some might argue too simple) white bread. The French call it pain de mie, which translates to “bread of the crumb” but is really just a fancy way of saying everyday sandwich bread.

I wasn’t as ambivalent about this bread as some BBAers, like Paul from Yumarama. In fact, I really liked it toasted with homemade jam. But I can see his point. It’s not what you expect this late in the game. This is more of a first-loaf, getting-your-feet-wet kind of bread. I know the recipes are in alphabetical order. Still, it felt like a bit of an anticlimax to be making such a basic loaf the 40th time out.

I baked this bread twice: once using variation #1 and a second time using the sponge in variation #3. I used my Pullman pan both times, although the second time I didn’t put on the lid. Here’s how the first version came out:

Note that the Pullman pan gives you a perfectly rectangular loaf, and nice, square slices of bread. Perfect for sandwiches, but not so artisanal looking.

Version #3 starts with a quick sponge. Unlike the typical preferment, the sponge is only allowed to ferment for about an hour before it is mixed into the dough. Otherwise, it is a fairly standard enriched dough. It kneaded beautifully and had a nice texture.

I didn’t divide the dough after it fermented, as the Pullman pan requires almost 3 1/2 pounds of dough per loaf.

When I made version #1, I allowed the dough to rise until it was about 1/4-inch from the lip of the pan, then I sprayed the lid with cooking oil and slid it on the pan. I began preheating the oven at that point, and baked the loaf with the lid on for about 20 minutes. I removed the lid and allowed the loaf to finish baking.

With version #3, however, I decided to use a Dutch crunch topping, which meant I couldn’t use the lid, as I was afraid the topping would all stick to the lid and probably burn. For the Dutch crunch, I used cornmeal, flour, yeast, salt, oil, and water. I brushed it on after the bread had proofed in the pan, shortly before I put the loaf in the oven.

Pain de Mie - Proofed, before Dutch Crumb

Pain de Mie with Dutch Crumb

 I baked the loaf at 350 dF for 20 minutes, turned it 180 degrees, inserted a probe thermometer, and continued baking until the internal temperature reached 187 dF.

Check out that crazy oven spring! The top of the loaf was about 1/8-inch below the top rack. And it baked over the sides of the pan quite a bit, too.

As far as taste goes, version #1 was a decent, but not remarkable, loaf of white bread. Fine for sandwiches or eating toasted with jam. Version #3 was still not an out-of-the-ballpark bread, but it was much tastier than the first version. I’m not sure whether it was the sponge, Dutch crunch, or a combination of both. I suspect they both played a role in the flavor of this bread. Again, it was a good sandwich bread and great for eating toasted with homemade jam. And it was tasty enough to eat toasted with just butter.

I will make this bread again, as I enjoy making pain de mie to use for sandwiches and toast. I’ll definitely use version #3 again. And probably Dutch crunch, too. I might try using the crunch with the lid on just to see what happens.

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