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!

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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.

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.

Swedish Limpa – Bork, Bork!

Thees veek in Phyl’s keetchee, ve-a mede-a zee Svedeesh Leempa.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about this bread. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of rye. And I have so far enjoyed the BBA recipes that called for citrus oils and spices. I just didn’t know how it would be to combine them all into one bread. I’m glad to report that I was pleasantly surprised.

One of the things that makes this bread different from some of the other BBA breads is that you make it using a sponge. To make the sponge, I boiled water, molasses, orange oil, and ground aniseed, cardamom, and fennel seeds. This mixture smelled so good when it heated up. It had a strong citrus scent, and the spices gave it an exotic aroma that reminded me of my favorite Indian restaurant.

After it came to a boil, I removed the spice mixture from the stove and let it cool to room temperature. Then I mixed it with sourdough starter and rye flour.

I let the sponge ferment for about 5 hours, then refrigerated it overnight. The next day, I brought the sponge to room temperature, then mixed it with bread flour, yeast, and olive oil to make the dough. The recipe said to add up to 4 ounces of water to get the correct consistency, but I ended up using less than an ounce of water.

The dough smelled great and had a nice feel to it. It rose beautifully, too. After fermenting the dough for 2 hours, I shaped it into a loaf and put it in a 9×5 pan. I scored the loaf, misted it with spray oil, and let it proof for about an hour and a half.  I baked the loaf at 350 dF for about 45 minutes, until the internal temperature reached 190 degrees.

As I mentioned, I wasn’t sure how well I would like this bread. But I needn’t have worried: it was amazing. It’s a really interesting take on rye bread. The spices give it a lot more flavor and complexity, but it doesn’t taste like panettone or a spiced quick bread, which is what I was worried about. This is a great sandwich bread, and is also really good toasted with marmalade or jelly.

So, what are you waiting for? 

Gu beke-a sume-a Leempa!

Baking and Cooking Glossary

One of the things I like about blogging is sharing some of the things I’ve learned about cooking and baking, including terms that can sometimes be confusing. I decided to start this glossary to collect some of these words and terms. I’ll add things here as I mention them in my blog and include links to this glossary from the blog entries, and vice versa.

There are a lot of food glossaries out there, and I have no intention of trying to make this one a complete compendium of cooking or baking terms. Rather, I want to use it to collect terms that come up in my blog posts. That said, if there are cooking terms that confuse you, drop me a line. I’ll try to add a definition.

baker’s percentages (or baker’s math) — in professional and artisan bread baking, recipes are conceived in ratios whereby the total flour in the recipe, by weight, is always 100%, and the rest of the ingredients are presented in relation to the flour weight. So, for example, if you are using 1000 grams of flour, and the yeast is given as 3%, then the recipe would require 30 grams of yeast.

fiori di sicilia — literally, “flower of Sicily”, is a flavoring extract with essences of citrus and vanilla. It can be used in place of vanilla and adds a wonderfully subtle flavor to sweet doughs.

full rolling boil — often use in jam and jelly making, the term “full rolling boil” means a boil that doesn’t subside when you stir the mixture.

herringbone cut — a method for cutting a boule that results in even-sized slices. (Click on link to see a pictoral demonstration.)

hooch — the greyish, brownish liquid that forms on the top of sourdough starter when the starter needs to be fed. Hooch is a result of alcohol production in the starter fermentation process. It can be poured off or stirred back into the starter. If it is poured off, the starter may require slightly more liquid when fed.

mise en placemise en place (pronounced MEES ahn plahs), literally “put in place” but more commonly translated “everything in place”, is a French cooking term, which simply refers to assembling all of your ingredients and equipment before you begin cooking. You read through your recipe, get out all your ingredients, measure, wash, chop, toast, bring to room temperature, etc., and get all of your pots, pans, bowls, utensils, and other equipment ready.

100% hydration — this term, used with sourdough starters, refers to the amount of water in a starter in relation to the amount of flour, both measured by weight. In baker’s percentages (see entry above), the flour is always 100%, and all other ingredients are measured in reference to the flour. So 100% hydration means that the weight of the water in the starter is equal to the weight of the flour. So, for example, if you feed your starter 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water, the starter would be 100% hydration.

pain de mie — is a fancy-sounding name for an everyday sandwich bread. Literally, it translates to “bread of crumb”; but most online French-to-English translators will return “sandwich bread” or simply “bread”. Pain de mie can be made with whole grain, but it is usually just a simple, white sandwich bread, often enriched with milk, butter, and sugar. It can be baked in a loaf pan or a Pullman pan (see below).

proofing box — a proofing box (sometimes also called a “proof box”) is sealed space where a baker can control the temperature and humidity in order to proof dough under controlled conditions. Generally, the temperature of a proofing box is kept around 100 degrees F, and the humidity at about 85%. (See how I simulate a proofing box in my microwave oven.)

Pullman pan — so named because it resembles the shape of a Pullman train car, this lidded, rectangular pan bakes a perfect pain de mie loaf (see above). Pullman pans come in many sizes, but a “standard” pan is about 13x4x4 inches and holds about 3 1/2 pounds (42 ounces) of dough.

soaker— in making a soaker, course-ground grains (e.g., cracked wheat, course-ground cornmeal, oats, etc.) are soaked in a small amount of water or milk overnight. This serves to soften and activate the enzymes in the grains, which improves the flavor of bread dramatically.

tacky vs. sticky (dough) — in bread baking, the recipe will often say that the dough should be either tacky or sticky. The easiest way to test this is to press your hand onto the dough and then lift it up. If the dough pulls up with your hand and then releases (so your hand comes away clean), the dough is tacky. If you end up with dough stuck to your hand, it’s sticky.