Monday, November 29, 2010

An Everyday Bread with a Twist - Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

Lately I've been experimenting with some time-honored techniques for making dough. Specifically, I've been trying to push the limits and thereby understand the characteristics of fermenting dough. The idea is simple and, believe me, not at all new. It has been used, in one form or another, for thousands of years. Like I said, it's really quite simple. Wheat has locked in its molecules natural sugars and texture enhancers.What can I do to unlock them naturally?

As it turns out, quite a bit! It is all about controlling the speed at which the yeast rises the dough. One way is to place the mixed dough in the refrigerator overnight. When you do this, the yeast continues to 'unlock' the flavors in the wheat without significantly rising because the cool temperature slows it down to almost nothing. Another way is to add very little yeast (or none) and mix the flour with water. Leave it to ferment for a few hours at room temperature and only afterwards start mixing the dough. This is important in, say, whole wheat bread where the flavor and natural sugars are locked up tight.

This bread is one of many in this ongoing learning process. It uses both a soaker and a slow fermented dough, called poolish (a flour water slurry). To help out a little, I added about 5g (1 tsp.) of wheat gluten because whole wheat flour is both heavy by itself, and the bran in the dough (it is whole wheat after all) tends to cut the gluten strands and lessen the rise.

This bread takes two days because of the deliberate slowdown of the rising process. It is very healthy and very delicious, well worth waiting for.

Here's What You'll Need:

for the soaker
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup warm water

for the poolish
1 1/8 cups whole wheat flour
about 1 g. active dry yeast (a large pinch or 1/8 tsp. + half of 1/8 tsp.)
5/8 cup water at room temperature

for the dough
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1 1/2 Tbs. honey
3/4 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 medium egg
5 g. (1 tsp.) wheat gluten
seeds for decoration

Here's What You'll Need to Do:
1. The day before baking prepare the soaker and the poolish ferment. For the soaker place the flour and the water in a container and mix them together. Cover the container and let it stand at room temperature until tomorrow.

2. For the poolish ferment, mix all the ingredients together, then let it sit to ferment for about 4 hours until it starts to get bubbly. Then put in the refrigerator overnight.

3. The next day take the poolish out of the refrigerator an hour or so before using to take off the chill. Then place the whole wheat flour, salt, gluten and yeast in a large bowl and mix. Add the poolish and the soaker along with the egg, oil and honey and mix thoroughly until it forms a ball of dough.
4. Knead the dough for 5 to 10 minutes until it becomes quite smooth and slightly tacky.
5. Place the kneaded dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat, then cover and let it rise until doubled (about 2 hours).
6. Remove the dough from the bowl, then flatten to a rectangle the length of your baking pan. Fold, de-gassing as little as possible, like a letter, then place it, seam side down, in the greased loaf pan.
7. Let the dough rest and rise for about another hour or until it just rises above the lip of the loaf pan.

8. About 20 minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 350F (175C). Just before placing in the oven, spray the dough with water then sprinkle, if you desire, with some decoration. I used rolled oats as you can see in the photos.

9. Bake for about 30 minutes, then turn it around for even baking, and bake at least 10 minutes more (or until it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

As I said this is part of an ongoing learning experience. On the way I'm having lots of fun and eating lots of good bread.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Bit of This and That - Sesame Molasses Bread

Lately I've been reading quite a bit about the health aspects of bread, especially the flour. Of course, flour is the most important ingredient, and that which determines the character and the structure of the entire loaf. But there are other considerations as well and they do influence the 'health' index of a good loaf of bread. These include eggs. Also, sweeteners, if any and the fat content. When I say fat I mean any type of fat which for most breads  means butter or margarine. Sometimes it means some kind of vegetable oil (and that is usually a kind of oil that has no taste like canola or soy oil although for Mediterranean bread it almost always means olive oil). So the 'health index' of bread means whether you bake with whole wheat flour (and what percentage), liquid oil (and how much) and to a lesser degree fiber content (by adding bran). This bread that I made for the first time scores quite high on the 'health index'. It uses whole wheat flour (but mixed with white flour to develop gluten) and molasses (rich in B vitamins and iron). It is very versatile and very tasty. It has a slightly sweet taste and therefore is probably more suited to butter, jam and soft cheese type sandwiched rather than smoked meats and cold cuts. It is a great breakfast bread. I know you'll love it. It is based on a recipe found in that wonderful bread cookbook The Bread Bible: 300 Favorite Recipes, a book worth adding to your cookbook collection in any event.

Here's What You'll Need for 3 small loaves:
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 Tbs. yeast
Pinch of light brown sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 light molasses
2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup cornmeal
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
5 to 5 1/2 cups AP flour

Here's What You'll Need to Do:
1. Dissolve the pinch of sugar and the yeast in the warm water. Let it stand for about 10 minutes until it becomes frothy.
2. Mix in the light brown sugar, molasses and the whole wheat flour. Stir until mixed and hydrated, then cover and let it stand to ferment until bubbly, about 1 1/2 hours.
3. Add the AP flour, 1 cup at a time along with the oil, sesame seeds, cornmeal, salt and eggs. Keep adding flour, one cup at a time making sure to incorporate it fully. Do not let the dough get stiff. This dough should remain a little sticky so avoid the temptation to make it more pliable by adding more flour. In the end this will make the bread heavy and dense.
4. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat, then cover and let it rise until doubled, about an hour.

5. Remove the dough from the bowl, and divide into 3 portions without kneading the dough further. Place each portion, now oval loaf-shaped, onto a prepared baking sheet. Cover and let the portions rest for an additional 45 minutes or so.

6. Meanwhile, about 20 minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 350 F (170 C). Lightly brush egg white over the loaves, and sprinkle more sesame seeds if you like.
7. Bake for about 35-40 minutes or until very deep brown in color and they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

8. Cool completely on a rack before slicing and serving.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Seasonal Bread - Pumpkin Artisan Bread

Sooooo... It finally happened. Yesterday I decided I just had to make some bread (since it had already been since Friday - and it was already Sunday) but honestly, none of my recipes looked exciting. Not one of them did a thing for me. I debated back and forth, and finally, like I said, I just started making the recipe up myself. I had some fresh pumpkin in the refrigerator and everything else needed of course. The internal debate was whether I should make a sandwich loaf or a boule type artisan loaf. I chose the boule. I know, I know. The loaf would be more practical and be eaten faster, maybe. Also, since this was going to be an everyday bread (not a special holiday-type bread) it made sense to make a loaf. Still, the idea of a self-made (designed?) artisan loaf was enticing. I took the leap.

I knew certain things in advance. For instance, I know that I need about 1 Tablespoon of yeast to about 3 cups of flour. Whole wheat takes a little more, but this would be AP flour. Also, it would need maybe a cup of warm water. The variable, and therefore, the area of experimenting was in my surprise ingredient, i.e., the pumpkin. The added volume and even more importantly, liquid. But how much? I didn't know. Also, although I wanted the sweetness of the pumpkin to come through (and it did!) I knew it would add sweetness, just not how much. That meant I would need to adjust the amount of sugar. Oh, and I didn't want orange bread. I have recipes for sweet potato muffins, for example, that come out orange. Somehow that is ok for muffins. And yes, I know, I only recently made tomato bread that is quite reddish in color. Still, orange? I don't know. So I boiled the pumpkin to make it soft and drained it really well. Then I mashed it with a fork. The end result was whitish bread with flecks of orange, perfect.

Here's What You'll Need:
1 cup warm water
1 1/2 Tbs. sugar
1 Tbs. yeast
about 2/3 cup mashed boiled pumpkin
3 to 3 1/2 cups AP flour
1/2 Tbs. salt

Here's What You'll Need to Do:
1. Cut up the pumpkin into chunks then cover with water. Boil about 10 minutes or until soft enough to mash with a fork.

2. In the meantime, mix the sugar with the water to dissolve, then mix in the yeast. Let it stand for about 10 minutes until in becomes quite bubbly.
3. Mix in 1 cup of the flour, and stir vigorously to make a smooth slurry. Then add the pumpkin (after it has cooled so you don't kill the yeast!!).
4. Add the flour, one cup at a time mixing thoroughly each time until you have a smooth but quite sticky dough.

5. Remove the dough from the bowl onto a floured tabletop. Continue kneading in more flour to make a dough which is still soft but only slightly tacky.
6. Place this dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and let it rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
7. Carefully move the dough from the bowl to a greased, and floured (I used cornmeal) baking sheet. Tuck the edges underneath stretching the surface to form a ball shape. Place the dough on the board with the stretched edges down. Try to avoid de-gassing the dough as much as possible while shaping and placing it. Cover it lightly with oiled plastic wrap to rest for about 30 minutes.
8. About 15 minutes before baking time preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C). Place a baking stone, if you have one, on the middle rack of the oven and a small pan on the bottom of the oven.
9. Just before baking, pour about 2 cups of boiling water into the pan and quickly close the oven door to create a steamy atmosphere for the bread. If you want you can also spray the walls of the oven a few times to make it even steamier.
10. Bake the bread either directly on the stone or, like I did, by placing your baking sheet on the stone, for about 30 minutes. It will be a very dark brown color. If you think it is getting too dark, lightly cover it with aluminum foil during baking to slow the browning process.
11. Cool completely on a rack before slicing. The crust, will soften as it cools, but remains quite chewy. And of course, it is delicious!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fancy Bread for Lazy People - Brioche Made Easy

Sometimes you just want to skip all the extra steps and still enjoy the fruits of your labor. Sometimes, the idea of a great breakfast (brunch?) bread is so strong, you want to (have to?) have it now. Or almost now. Brioche is one of those breads that usually take a long time and demand attention to detail. It is also a bread worth the effort if you have the time, and patience. It is a bread with a history. Marie Antoinette is actually supposed to have urged starving Parisians to eat brioche since there was no bread in town at the time. Needless to say her suggestion was not received well by the locals and, as we all know, it did not end well for her either.

That aside, brioche is a very rich bread that falls in between. It is in my opinion clearly a bread, but it is sooo rich, it does have some cake-like qualities.

Here is a 'quick' version of brioche with a chocolate filling. It is delicious covered with butter and served warm. Also, at room temperature. Also, anytime, really. Just enjoy!

Here's What You'll Need:
500g bread flour
250g milk
2 eggs
50g sugar
15g instant yeast
5g salt
1 stick (113g) unsalted butter, diced

also use and egg white mixed with a little water for a 'wash' before baking

Here's What You'll Need to Do:
Mix everything together in your mixer until you get a nice really smooth dough. This can take a while. In my case it took about 15 minutes, scraping down the dough every few minutes from the dough hook in the mixer.

After it's mixed, place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat (so it won't dry out) then let it rise in a draft-free place until doubled. This might take as much as 2 hours since the large amount of butter will slow the rise. WAIT!!

After rising, de-gas the dough, cut it into about 12 equal pieces, press them fairly flat then add some chocolate chips. 

Roll the dough into a round shape and place on parchment paper to rise, covered for about 45 minutes. If you want, you can instead place the filled dough balls in a lightly greased muffin tin to maintain the round shape. They do come out much prettier that way! Let the dough rise in the tin until they overflow the tops a little to make the traditional 'mushroom' top. 

Pre-heat the oven to 365 F (185 C). Just before placing in the oven, brush gently with a wash of egg white and water. Sprinkle with sesame seed if you want. I think it make them tastier but it's just a matter of taste. Bake for 10 minutes, turn them 180 degrees for even baking, them bake another 10 minutes. 

These rolls are really good. I mean really. They are.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Perfect for savory sandwiches - Tomato Bread

It's not often you come across a loaf of bread which is both unusual and perfect. Unusual, because this bread is red. And that's because it has tomato paste in it. And perfect for them same reason. The tomato paste not only paints the bread a bright red color, but also gives it a savory flavor while at the same time add moisture. That makes this bread absolutely perfect for say, a steak sandwich, or maybe roast beef. Also, if you prefer, this bread would be great for sandwiches with a sharp cheddar cheese and some extra fort moutarde. Yummy! The best part is how east it is to make.

Here's What You'll Need:
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. sugar
1 Tbs. butter or margarine
1/2 Tbs. active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water
3 oz. (about 100g) tomato paste
2 1/4 cups bread flour
egg white for glaze
poppy seeds for garnish

Here's What You'll Need to Do:
1. Mix together the salt, sugar, softened butter or margarine, yeast, tomato paste and the warm water.

2. Mix in 2 cups of the flour to make a soft dough.
3. Place the rest of the dough on a tabletop then remove the dough from the bowl and knead in the remaining flour. You may need to add even a bit more flour. The dough will remain very soft.
4. Form the dough into a loaf, then place it into a prepared loaf pan about 8.5 X 4.5 (21.5 X11cm).

Let the dough rise, covered, until it fills the pan. At least an hour, maybe more.

5. Bake at 375 F (190 C) for about 40 minutes or until golden brown.

6. I told you it was easy, now taste it. Delicious!!