Friday, December 25, 2009

Stollen: Holiday bread part I

my stollen and my mom's nutbread

My older sister gave me two amazing books for christmas, The Bread Baker's Apprentice and The Bread Bible. I celebrated by making stollen this morning from BBA. I was going to make cinnamon rolls, but the stollen recipe seemed more appropriately festive.

It's an unusual recipe for me; I prefer savory to sweet breads and generally use levain instead of instant yeast, but I think these new books will be great for pushing me beyond my comfort zones.

Stollen has an interesting history and apparently a wide range of variations. I was amused and intrigued by the idea that the bread's shape references the baby Jesus wrapped in a blanket and the fruit/nuts represent the gifts of the wise men. My mom might not have been as amused however, as I kept dancing around the kitchen referring to the rising dough as my "baby Jesus bread". Anyway!

The stollen starts with a milk-based very short preferment of sorts, which is then mixed in with more flour, eggs, butter, citrus zest, and bunch of dried fruit. Oh, and the dried fruit is soaked in alcohol (I used dark rum). The whole thing smelled pretty intense while I was mixing it up! I was also nervous about the tackiness of the dough and thought there would be too much fruit+raisins in it. In the end both things turned out just fine! The loaf was really large; we sliced half of it for Christmas dinner at the grandparents' and kept the other half home.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sunday night dinner party

My roommate Lauren's best friend from home was in town visiting and I'm currently dog sitting in the middle of nowhere in a house with a much nicer kitchen than mine, so obviously we needed to have a dinner party.

For six people the meal plan was:
  • mushroom risotto
  • fennel, leek & cheddar frittata
  • steamed lemon asparagus
  • salad
  • and ginger green tea ice cream for dessert

I started the ice cream in the afternoon so it would have plenty of time to freeze before dinner. I read a dozen or so recipes for ginger ice cream and green tea ice cream, but could only find one that had both. I ended up half winging it and sort of following this recipe. In retrospect, I should have thought more about color. The tea turned it a little grey and the ginger turned it a little brown, which I think was saved by Tom's nutmeg addition. Here's how I made it:

Ginger Green Tea Ice Cream

Ice Cream
  • 4 egg yolks (I saved the whites for the frittata)
  • 1/4 cup coarsely grated peeled fresh ginger root
  • 4 teabags of fresh green tea
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1.5 cups whole milk
  • 1.5 cup heavy cream

Ginger Syrup Swirl
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1/4 c coarsely grated peeled fresh ginger root
  1. Whisk yolks in small bowl. 
  2. In medium pot cook sugar, ginger and water over medium heat, stirring until everything dissolves and most of the water cooks off
  3. Add the whole milk and bring to a simmer. 
  4. Remove tea from tea bags (or use loose leaf) and add to mixture, let steep 5 minutes
  5. Strain ginger and tea out through fine mesh sieve. 
  6. Temper in egg yolks, add vanilla and heavy cream and return all to pan
  7. Bring mixture back to barely a simmer
  8. Transfer ice cream to ice cream maker

Ginger Syrup Swirl
  1. Crush the shredded ginger in the bottom of a small pan with the back of a spoon
  2. Add sugar, water, honey, simmer until thick.
  3. Gently swirl mixture into ice cream when it is nearly frozen
 **Freshly grated nutmeg before serving. (Tom's addition. Really balanced the other flavors). 


A note on timing: I prepped all of the veggies and eggs before cooking. Since everything I was making needed to go from stove to plate as quickly as possible, I waited to start the risotto until everyone was here and snacking on cheese, crackers, figs, & jam in the living room. Then I timed the frittata and asparagus according to when I thought the risotto would be finished. I turned out to not have enough hands and my friend Tom stepped in to do some of the final stirring while I took care of the asparagus and frittata. 

Fennel, Leek & Cheddar Frittata

Aside from the switch in cheese, I followed a recipe from the have a nosh! blog (she uses goat cheese, but I didn't have any on hand). (Sidenote: There are a ton of other great looking recipes on that blog).

I prefer to make frittatas in a cast iron skillet, sauteing the veggies in the same pan before adding the eggs and then popping the whole under a broiler. A good cast iron skillet evenly distributes the heat perfectly and the egg comes away from the pan edge cleanly and much more easily than any glass dish or other frying pan I've tried. The fennel in this recipe was totally a shot in the dark for me. I don't cook with fennel much, but there was some in the fridge so I thought I'd give it a go. I also used a New Zealand cows milk cheddar I picked up from Trader Joe's. It had a really rich flavor to it that I had worried would overpower the leeks and fennel, but luckily it turned out to be a great balance.

Mushroom Risotto

I followed this recipe for Mushroom Risotto, with only a few alterations. I used vegetable stock instead of chicken (duh I suppose, since I'm a vegetarian). I used a kind of buttery chardonnay for the wine because that's what was open (and it tasted just fine). I also used a different combination of mushrooms. Jay had a bag of some unidentified mushroom in the fridge. I'm 75% sure they were chanterelles, but they could have been something else. I also used about 4 oz of baby portabellos, 8 oz of white button mushrooms, and then the 1 oz of dried porcini mushrooms (which I always forget need to be wiped of grit... they're so tiny that I'm not sure how one would even go about doing that, but then I sometimes end up with a bit of sand in my risotto, which is so not the right texture). I also used dried thyme instead of fresh.

I really like making risottos. While they are time consuming, I always think that the heartiness of a good mushroom risotto is a great center for a vegetarian meal. This recipe made way more than we could eat. For six adults, I would cut it down in the future to 1 1/2 c rice if it's the main dish or to 1 c rice if it's a side (and adjust the other ingredients accordingly).

Asparagus with Lemon Butter

When I first saw the title of this recipe I thought it involved making lemon butter, but it did not. Delicious and simple anyway. I made this right before everything else was ready to go on the table. And I actually followed this entire recipe for once in my life.

  • 1/2 lb asparagus, rough ends snapped/cut off
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • salt to taste

Steam the asparagus in a pan with some water, strain water and then toss with butter, zest, lemon juice, and salt.


Pretty much your standard salad. I think we used red leaf and green leaf lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, scallions, cured black olives, feta cheese, and I made a mustard vinaigrette.

All in all it was a super fun evening and the meal turned out well (aside from forgetting about the fritatta long enough to let the top get just a little too overdone).

Sunday, November 8, 2009

pizzas & congratulations

I almost dropped one of these pizzas this evening. I was taking it out of the oven when my sister called to tell me she was engaged (!!!!). I should probably have known better than to answer the phone while opening a 500° oven, but I didn't want the pizza to burn and, you know, it was my sister calling and all. I didn't drop the pizza, but I did have to wait to set it down before I could give a more enthusiastic response. Anyway. Dinner was delicious and my sister is engaged.

Pizza #1 
sauteed onions + garlic, added cumin, oregano, lime zest, mixed in black beans and garlic tomato sauce. topped with cheddar cheese and avocado.

Pizza #2
sauteed onions, garlic, mushrooms, swiss chard (red and white), red bell pepper, added crushed red pepper, fresh basil and parsley, roasted garlic tomato sauce. topped with parmesan cheese.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Chicken pictures

The chicken coop. 

the run.

their first day in their new home!

inside the coop.

the ramp between the coop and the yard.

the nesting boxes!

chickens in the run.

I try not to play favorites, but if I did it would be this hen.



We finally got the chickens! It took a while but it was worth the wait. I had wanted to get chickens last year, but my roommate Lauren thought it would be a bad idea. Imagine my surprise when I returned from India this summer and one of the first things she said was, "Let's get chickens!".

Plans: I spent most of August looking at plans for chicken coops and researching chicken breeds. My parents came to visit in early September and my dad was kind enough to bring me a bunch of tools that I don't have here in Massachusetts. We were able to get some of the wood and all of the chicken wire from freecycle and additional wood from a fencing company in Northampton that gives away scraps. We did have to buy some sheets of plywood, the insulation, screws, staples, insulation glue, and hinges.

Costs: The total cost for the whole project was $175.68. That's $10 each for the chickens, $11 for feed (which should last for 3+ months), hay for bedding and food, and building supplies. The eggs we usually buy from the store are $2.99 a dozen, which is $.25 per egg. That means the hens will have to lay 702 eggs for us to recover our costs. They can lay up to 3 eggs a day (one egg each) and have been averaging 2 eggs a day. So if they continue to lay 2 eggs a day, we should hit 700 eggs in just under a year. The hens will lay for 2-3 years, so in the end we should get back at least twice the cost we put in.

Food: We really didn't do this to save money though. I am increasingly invested in understanding where all of the food we eat comes from and knowing exactly what it is we're putting in our bodies. We've had a farm share for the past two years, which is really great for June through October. The winter months are harder, but we might get a winter farm share this year. Winter farm shares are primarily root vegetables and greens (lots of kale!). That's all an aside. I am a vegetarian and rely on eggs as a near daily source of protein. I hate standing in front of the egg case at the store and debating over organic feed, free range, hormone free, etc eggs. The fact that these labels aren't regulated by the FDA pisses me off. Anyone can put "free range" on their egg carton. "Cage free" eggs might just mean that the chickens get a few more inches of cage space than some of their less fortunate counterparts. Additionally, free range doesn't necessarily mean that the chickens are eating any better than if they were in cages.

The fact is that what the chicken eats, I eat. If the chickens are cramped into a tiny space eating manure and sawdust along with their hormone laced feed, then that's what's being transferred to the eggs I eat. I'm lucky enough to live in an area in which local eggs from farmers I can talk to are readily available. I could go see how the hens live and what they're eating before I decide to purchase their eggs. I'm incredibly fortunate to have that. However, those eggs come with an increased price tag, sometimes upwards of $5 a dozen (which is the case at our farm share). That's incredibly expensive to me! Even though I am an advocate of spending more money for quality whole foods and probably spend a larger percentage of my income on food than your average 24 year old, I'm not willing to drop $5 for a dozen eggs. Keeping my own hens requires a little bit of labor on my part and ensures that I know exactly what's going into my chickens, and thus into their eggs. I also know if they're healthy, happy, and being treated well. That and they're pretty fun to have around. So it seemed like a win win situation.

Work?: So how much work is it to take care of hens? Not a lot really. Building the coop took a while. We did it piecemeal, an hour here and there after work before the sun set. In the end, the coop we have may not look as fancy as some of the ones you can buy, but it was a lot of fun to build! And it works just fine. Comparable coops available online or from farm supply stores in this area start at about $1000 if you can believe it, with most in the $1500-$1700 range and some even more. That's insane. Insane. Day to day care for the chickens involves raising and lowering the ramp to their coop (optional really until cold weather sets in), collecting the eggs, refilling their water dish daily, refilling their food dish when it's empty, and cleaning out the manure/putting in clean hay. All in all, maybe 5 minutes a day and another 15 minutes every few weeks. Not much in the grand scheme of things. Way easier than having a dog or a cat. Also, cats don't lay eggs. Too bad.

Pictures to follow. The end.

P.S. Now I just need to work on convincing Lauren to move to a house where I can have goats!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

an orange + chipotle powder = surprisingly delicious.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Apple Onion Cheddar Thyme Bread

 This might be my new favorite bread.

I've been working on variations of this recipe for a while and I think that I might have finally figured it out. I wanted to put all of my favorite things into one loaf of bread. I've done onions and cheese, apples and cheese, thyme and onions, etc. but they often didn't rise well enough or I would put too much stuff into the dough. My most recent loaf turned out well and I think I'm going to stick with this combination in the future.

First I made a basic sourdough bread at 67% hydration. Then I kneaded the apples, onions, cheese, thyme, and salt into the dough.

After about two hours (with folds every hour) I shaped the loaf and let the dough rise overnight in the fridge. The next morning I pulled the dough out of the fridge and turned the stove onto 500 to preheat with a stone. I baked the bread for about 40 minutes.

The apple slices I put on top unfortunately burned on the edges. I think I'll skip that step next time. But the loaf turned out okay and the inside was really light and soft.

It was yummy.

Friday, October 9, 2009

delicious sandwich

I posted about the Apple Walnut Sourdough bread I made the other day so I thought I'd post about the delicious sandwich I made for dinner after the loaf came out of the oven.

My carnivorous roommates frequently cook bacon in our house, for breakfast or dinner, and although it's been many many years now since I've eaten bacon, the smell always makes me crave that certain salty flavor that I've never found replicated in vegetarian fare. I've had the kind of vegetarian fake bacon that you can get at the store, usually by Morningstar or one of those brands, but they always have a strange plasticy texture and smell that reminds me of dog treats. Not appetizing. However, I once went to a vegan brunch my current roommate Liz's former apartment for which she made "vegan bacon" from tempeh. It was really delicious. It was crispy and salty and a little bit smoky, and while it was definitely NOT bacon, I loved it and immediately asked for the recipe. Well, that was nearly a year ago now and I've forgotten whatever it was Liz told me, but while the Apple Walnut Sourdough was rising and baking and the sweet nutty aroma filled the house, I began to think about how well apples, cheese, and bacon go together. Thinking back to Liz's brunch, I began to search for recipes that might replicate that smoky salty flavor I've long missed.

I came across several variations on what seemed to be the core ingredients: soy sauce and liquid smoke. Several recipes added nutritional yeast and a few threw in some heat by means of chili powder or hot sauce. I decided to start simple and complicate things from there. I sliced a package of Bridge Tofu (the best available around here, in my opinion) into inch wide, quarter inch thick slices, that I spread out on paper towels to dry off. I heated some vegetable oil up in my cast iron skillet. I used enough to coat the bottom, but not so much that it would cover the tofu. You want to brown it, not deep fry it. Once the oil was hot I laid the tofu strips in, cooked until brown and crispy on one side, then flipped and did the same for the other.

Once the oil has cooked off and the tofu is crispy, pour a mixture of soy sauce and liquid smoke over it while it's in the pan. Proportions differ, so do it to taste. I mixed 2T soy sauce, 1T liquid smoke, and 1/4c water. The water turned out to be a bad idea, but I had trouble seeing how 3T of liquid would evenly coat all of the tofu in the pan. The soy sauce/liquid smoke mixture should be absorbed into the tofu while the water cooks off (as I learned, if you use too much water, the tofu gets a little spongy and wet on the inside, which definitely isn't a bacon texture). Once the liquid is gone, pull the tofu out of the pan and voila!

For the sandwich, I sliced up some of the Apple Walnut bread, some Vermont cheddar, and put it all together with the tofu "bacon". I grilled it a little to brown the bread (the heat of the tofu mostly melted the cheese before I even put the sandwich in the skillet). I ended up adding mustard after I'd grilled it, which was tasty. I had also roasted some beets and cauliflower with garlic (all from the farm share!) while the oven was hot from the bread. Put it all together and my roommate and I had a really great dinner!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

World Bread Day 2009

world bread day 2009 - yes we bake.(last day of sumbission october 17)

Okay, so I'm going to bake something for World Bread Day. Thoughts? Suggestions? Favorite breads that I've made in the past?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Apple Walnut Bread

This weekend I decided that the weather had cooled down enough that I could start baking bread again without driving my roommates crazy with 500 degree ovens. I pulled my starter from the fridge, where it had laid much neglected over the summer, and ramped it up with frequent feedings from last Friday until Tuesday, when I deemed it ready to use (more out of impatience than actual evidence from the starter). It took a bit longer than I expected, but I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised since I used it so little (no feedings at all in fact for 2 months!).

I had been eying two recipes from the Wild Yeast Blog for a couple of weeks because they seemed like the perfect breads for saying “Hello Fall!” I didn’t have everything to make either bread, but I did have walnuts so I opted for the Apple Walnut Sourdough instead the Apple Cider Sour Rye, which I may have to make next weekend.

With my starter ready to go, I did a final feed Tuesday morning and then set to making the bread Tuesday in the early evening. I halved the recipe to make one loaf and altered some of the ingredients. I didn’t have buckwheat flour, cider, or dried apples. I did have fresh apples though and rye.

Here's the recipe I ended up following looked like:




Flour (KABF)



Rye flour












Apples (fresh)






I followed Susan's directions, aside from rehydrating the apples. I was mixing everything by hand, which was tricky. Using fresh apples made the dough very wet and sticky and I began to wish that I had chopped them smaller. I had hoped for the bread to be finished by dinner, but I didn't end up pulling it out of the oven until 11pm. I probably should have let it rise even longer; Susan's directions call for a total of about 5 hours fermentation/rising time, but I suspect her starter was a bit more active than mine and that the dough wasn't as weighed down by the heavy apples.

I also wasn't quite as good at the apple stencil and ended up over-flouring the surface. Nonetheless, I think it turned out quite good! I cut into it today and made a delicious sandwich (post to follow). I had been worried that the crumb would be too dense/that it hadn't risen enough, but when I cut into it I was surprised to find that the crumb was just fine! This was also the first time I had used such large chunks of nuts in a bread and was worried about them being hard, thus making the bread difficult to bite into, but my fears were unfounded!

All in all, this was a delicious bread, perfect for a fall afternoon. Just what I was hoping for. Another excellent recipe from Wild Yeast!

Upon request, I'm submitting this post to Yeast Spotting over at the Wild Yeast blog!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Vacation Beer Reviews

I spent the weekend visiting my friend Kelly in Hollywood, Florida. It's a cute little town on the coast between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. While I was visiting I did my best to try as many new beers as I could, and Kelly definitely aided me in the process!

Knowing my great love of beer and being the wonderful friend that she is, Kelly got me an assorted six pack of local beers (save one from CA, which she picked out because the label was cool). I drank these over the course of the weekend along with a few other brews out at bars/restaurants. I took notes on a few. Nothing incredibly remarkable, the Monk in the Trunk was my favorite by far.

Holy Mackerel Special Golden Ale Ft Lauderdale, FL
A- opaque golden color, like cloudy honey. Thin head with persistent lacing

S- smelled like a hefeweizen, banana, slightly floral, alcohol aroma.

T- bit of a sharp/sour tang at first, but overall mild flavor in spite of the alcohol content. still put me in the mind of a hefeweizen

M- slightly viscous and heavy on the edges of my tongue.

D- pretty well balanced, and goes down easier than one would expect from an 8.5% abv, but not really one that I'd drink again.

Hurricane Reef Pale Ale Melbourne, FL
A- Poured a golden honey color with a thin head that quickly dissipated but left some lacing. Visibly highly carbinated.

S- Not a very strong nose on this beer, either that or my own was stuffy. Malty perhaps.

T- light, very mild hop taste, slight spice taste

M- light, again very carbinated, kind of thin.

D- very drinkable, goes down quick and easy, perhaps the only upside of an otherwise kind of boring beer. I wouldn't go out of my way to find this one again, but it was neat to try it.

Monk in the Trunk Amber Ale Jupiter, FL

A- pours amber with golden hues, thin head that lingered a bit

S - sweet, malty nose, faint hops and some alcohol

T - had a coppery metallic tang that reminded me of some copper ales I've tried, otherwise malty and sweet

M- crisp, not over or under carbinated

D- definitely could have had a few of these, and would drink it again. it was a good, solid amber and organic as well!

Heavy Seas Peg Leg Imperial Stout
, Maryland

I had this one at a restaurant, served from a bottle. I was really not impressed and then I gave the bottle a better look over and noticed that it said to serve before May 2009. Since I drank it in August, I figured it was 3-4 months past its prime and will blame the restaurant for now instead of the beer for my underwhelmed reaction. Perhaps I'll get a chance to try it again sometime.

A-dark but thin pouring with ruby notes and little to no head
S-roasted smells on the nose, coffee and chocolate perhaps, but very faint
T-yeasty taste, alcohol-sweet with a kind of stale malty flavor that lingered after
M- thinner than most russian imperial stouts i've had
D-definitely wouldn't have had another, for the abv and the taste. i'll have to try this on tap before i pass final judgment, but overall i thought it tasted bad

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

In March I made sourdough cinnamon rolls following a recipe by Mountaindog on The Fresh Loaf.

The Fresh Loaf this really useful online community about bread and baking. It has a lot of great information on sourdough in particular. I converted the recipe to an excel spreadsheet to keep everything straight (it’s a 4 day process!). I’ll see if there’s a way to post the spreadsheet here, but for now I’ll just post the above link to the original recipe and tell you about any notes or changes I made and what did and didn’t work. It was one of the most involved sourdough recipes I’ve tackled yet and it was a lot of work, but the end result was definitely worth it. The cinnamon rolls didn’t last long!.

Day 0 (Thursday) 8pm, Freshen up starter

This was not part of recipe, but always needs to be done. I brought my starter to room temperature and fed it and tracked rise and fall so I had a sense of its peak rising time etc. My starter was at 100% hydration,.

Day 1 (Friday) 11pm, Build the levain

I fed my starter according to the recipe and let it sit at room temp until doubled, which was overnight or about 10 hours. The recipe calls for 850g of levain total, which is much more than I’m used to dealing with for a bread recipe. You can see here that my starter doubled and then some overnight.

Day 2 (Saturday) 10am, Build the dough and Bulk Fermentation

I made the mashed potatoes the night before so it could cool sufficiently and mixed the final dough Saturday morning. This was particularly difficult because I don’t have a mixer and was stirring everything in by hand. I also didn’t have any buttermilk, so I added a bit of lemon juice to milk, which has worked well for me in other recipes. I didn’t have a large enough bowl to let the whole thing bulk ferment so I split it into two bowls and left it on the counter at about 60°. I also made the filling that afternoon. I followed my mom’s recipe for cinnamon roll filling instead of the ingredients in this recipe, just because I like it better and it’s simpler.



Day 2 (Saturday) 10pm-12am, Shaping

This was where I ran into a bunch of problems and diverted from the recipe’s instructions. The first step after the dough has doubled is to divide it into two pieces (check) and then roll it out into a rectangle. The recipe says that the dough should be sticky, which it definitely was. Then I spread the filling and rolled up the first rectangle.

At this point you’re supposed to be able to slice the logs into rounds and put them in a pan or on a cookie sheet to rise. The recipe says, “Slice each log into 8 or 12 rolls with serrated knife and place them just barely touching each other on baking parchment on sheet pan. Don't worry if log gets flattened as you slice each roll, you can straighten them out once placed on the sheet pan, and they should rise very high and straighten out when proofing”. No such luck. The dough was way too soupy and thin to roll. The first half turned into a cinnamon roll blob and was not even close to sliceable. I remedied this by putting the whole thing in a bundt cake pan, so that it turned out like a coffee cake kind of thing. It actually worked really well and it was nice to have both a cake and cinnamon rolls in the end. It’s a huge recipe by the way. I’d definitely cut it in half next time.

For the second half of the dough I chilled the dough before trying to roll it out so that it was at about 40-45° instead of 60°-65°. I also didn’t roll the rectangle out as thinly as it said I should and rolled the log tighter than the first time (the first time was sloppy I think due to my lack of skill and the slackness of the dough). The second batch held its shape much better and I was able to slice it into rounds. I think that I would chill the log again before slicing it next time to retain the roll's shape. You can sort of round them out once they’re turned on end in the pan, but the colder it is the easier it is and the less filling squishes out. They were also huge. If I made the full recipe again I’d split it into 3 logs I think. No one could finish a whole roll.

Okay so once the rolls are cut and on a cookie sheet they go into the fridge for an overnight/10-12 hour fermentation.

Day 3 (Sunday) 10am Bake

Bake the rolls right out of the fridge and make the icing while they’re in the oven. This part went just fine. In addition to the icing, I had some extra filling that we spooned on top of some of the rolls. Everyone loved them and I took a bunch to work to share. The bundt cake roll turned out well too.

Notes on the recipe: I think they have a noticable sour tang that I would like to avoid next time, although none of my friends thought so. It might go nice with the sourcream icing I guess, but I thought they should have been a little sweeter. I also don't think they needed to rise for as long as they did. I think next time I would bulk ferment in the fridge at 40°-45° instead of on the counter at 55°-65°. Then I would try to roll the logs, then chill again and slice them while the dough is cold. Mountaindog does suggest other ways of chilling the dough in the recipe, “(NOTE: I've not yet tried this, but it should also be possible to chill the un-sliced logs in frig overnight and slice just before baking, or freeze the logs for up to 1 month, take out the night before baking and defrost in frig. Next morning, remove from frig., slice, and let warm up at room temp about 1-2 hours before baking.)” So yeah, I think I’ll do something akin to that the next time.

Perhaps to cut down on the fermentation time and the sourness that develops I could also try a shorter fermentation on the counter instead of in the fridge once the rolls are cut. Or I could possibly play with my starter to get more lactic acid out of it than acetic acid. Who knows. They also required quite a bit longer to bake than the recipe suggested, even though my oven was at 400°. Overall, they were really tasty but difficult to shape, so their appearance wasn't quite as nice as I would have liked. It was a fun process and an interesting recipe!

a weekend of bread

Back in February I was house/dog sitting for Jay out in Shutesbury and I decided to make use of Jay’s oven, which is much larger and fancier than mine, to bake some bread.

This was the same weekend that I decided to try making sourdough English muffins, which I wrote about previously. It was convenient to make the English muffins the same weekend that I was planning to bake bread, because I was able to really ramp up my sourdough starter and use the excess sponge for the muffins. I ended up making a dozen or so muffins that turned out fairly well. I’ve tried 3 different recipes at this point and haven’t really been satisfied with any of them. My muffins tend to be denser than I think they should be and the dough is always much stickier and difficult to handle than the recipe makes it sound. The first time I followed the recipe’s instructions and patted/rolled the dough out and used a circular cookie cutter to cut the muffins. This was a complete mess. No amount of flour or cornmeal could keep the dough from sticking to the cookie cutter and to the counter. I think the honey was responsible for making the dough particularly tacky. The second time instead of cutting out rounds, I rolled the dough into balls and flattened them into rough circles, then let the dough rise. This was much easier to handle than the cookie cutter technique. The only downside I discovered was that my English muffins weren’t exactly round, but they still tasted delicious so I didn’t really care.

So about the bread; I made four loaves of bread, 2 large and 2 small. I vaguely followed Hamelman’s Vermont Sourdough Rye recipe, with which I have had much success. It was my go to recipe for sandwich bread this winter. I doubled the recipe in order to make four loaves and skipped the rye flour. I also made 3 of the four loaves with cheese, which is something I’ve only experimented with a few times. Jay had a bunch of cheese in his fridge that needed to be used right away, or a trip to the trash can in the near future. I used two soft cheeses, brie and camembert, for two of the small loaves and a big hunk of local cheddar for one of the larger loaves. The fourth loaf did not have any cheese in it. I wanted to try following instructions I had read for a torpedo loaf. The shaped turned out well I think. The technique created a lot of surface tension, which caused the loaf to split in places other than where I had scored it. I think next time I might need to score it differently, but the shape was roughly what I had expected.

I made boules for the two smaller loaves, folded the cheese into the center, and scored them in a cross pattern. The cheese melted as it baked and some of it bubbled out of the top of the loaf, which you can kind of see in this picture. The cheese on the outside of the loaves was crispy and delicious. The cheese on the inside caused the bread to have an uneven crumb with several large pockets where the chunks of cheese melted. It was incredibly good lightly toasted or just sliced plain. I confess I ate most of one of the smaller loaves myself almost as soon as it had cooled standing at the kitchen counter and just tearing hunks off. I managed to save the other one to share.

For the cheddar loaf I cut the cheese into cubes and worked it throughout the bread and put that one in a banneton to rise. Like the torpedo loaf, it split on the side in the oven even though I had scored it. I think that either the bread needed to rise longer or I didn’t score it well/deep enough. Or both! The crumb was a little denser than it often is with this recipe, but I think that actually worked well given the weight of the cheese. I definitely want to try cheese breads again, but I think I’ll find an actual recipe that calls for cheese next time instead of just adding it to a recipe that does not.


I also made black bean chipotle bread at Jay’s once a while back, for which I’ll have to track down the recipe sometime. It was really tasty and had an incredibly interesting color and texture from the purred black beans. The chipotles gave it a really spicy kick that you don’t necessarily expect from a slice of bread!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

To Do.

I'm posting this here so that I can't back out. I haven't spent much time baking lately, aside from a mess of sourdough english muffins (easiest things ever!), mostly because work has been crazy and I'm dog sitting, so even the times I'm off work have been busy. But! I just turned in the last application/personal statement/request for funding thing that I have on the agenda until doing the whole grad app thing again next fall, so no excuses!

This week I will make Pain de Beaucair. I am reading a bunch of recipes, making sure my starter's hot to trot, and debating flour purchases. I will make at least one batch of pain de beaucair, preferably more than one in case I mess it up the first time, and I will take pictures and then post about it. If you don't see it here by Friday, please send me an email and ask me what I've been doing with my life that was so important I couldn't find the time to make bread. And then tell me that my answer isn't good enough.

The end.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Homemade Banneton and a Funny Story

I was experimenting this winter with some high hydration doughs that were really tricky to handle and definitely not candidates for the free form loaves I had been making. Solution? Letting them proof in some sort of a container. Traditional wicker bannetons however, are pretty expensive and I didn't want to wait for one to arrive in the mail (because I'm super impatient and all about instant gratification. right). Another solution? To make my own!

I took an old undershirt (it was really clean! promise!) and cut out the center so that I had a roughly rectangular strip of cloth. I laid the cloth flat and rubbed a bunch of AP flour into the surface then used it to line a plastic colander. I dusted my ball of dough with more AP flour and put it in the make shift banneton and folded the extra cloth over the top. I figured that while plastic wouldn't necessarily wick moisture away from the crust like wicker, the holes in the colander would approximate the air flow that one might get from a more traditional set up. It actually worked really well! Hopefully you can see in the pictures that the cloth didn't stick to the bread and that the loaf rose in a nice round boule type shape.

Funny thing- I was talking on gmail with Laura and told her about how I was going to make some bannetons (I had originally planned on buying some cheap wicker baskets and sewing cloth linings, but forewent this option since it involved spending money) and she told me not to! I was really confused and couldn't figure out why she wouldn't want me to make this incredibly awesome thing! But she kept insisting, so I told her I would wait. I should perhaps mention now that it was January and that we hadn't seen each other for most of December. Anyway, the conversation was pretty funny because I was being super dense and just didn't get the hint.

i was going to run to the store shortly
i need a food scale and some wicker baskets...
where do you think i could find those things?
laura: why wicker baskets?
s and s won't have those.
i would go to the nice food store or target
me: ah, the wicker baskets are for bread
laura: like
me: to make a banneton
laura: eeeeee
me: it's like a floured basket for bread to rise in.
laura: yes
i know what it is....
me: oh, okay
laura: don't buy any.
me: you just said why wicker baskets...
laura: cough.
me: i'm not going to buy a banneton, they're super expensive
laura: yes.
me: i'm going to get a cheap wicker basket
laura: i know.
me: and cut up old tshirts and make one!
laura: yes
don't buy one yet.
me: okay.
but i want to use one today!
laura: well.
laura: uuughhhh
laura: you're killing this.
me: what?
okay fine
but i still need a scale
laura: okay.
what time are you going out?
me: don't know, before 3
laura: right.
me: do you need anything from the store?
laura: no, thanks.
laura: well
if you wanted to stop and get your xmas gift
on your way out.
laura: that might be wise.
me: okay, sure thing.

So, you might have guessed by now that Laura gave me a banneton for xmas, a real one made from wicker. It was a completely brilliant gift because I hadn't actually known what a banneton was until a few weeks prior and decided I really wanted one, but hadn't mentioned it to anyone. Laura apparently knows bread tools better than I do. I did end up making bread that day and used both the wicker banneton and the make shift cloth banneton, since the recipe made two loaves.

I like both methods but have definitely had trouble with dough sticking. I have tried using less flour, more flour, dryer area of the kitchen, more humid area of the kitchen, etc. I have since switched to dusting both the banneton and the cloth/colander contraption with a mixture of rice flour and AP flour on the advise of a thread on The Fresh Loaf. So far it has worked much much better than AP flour alone, but still not perfectly. I'm totally open to suggestions, if anyone has any.