a baking catch-up

October 30, 2012 § 7 Comments

I missed both of October’s bake days for the Tuesdays with Dorie group baking its way through Greenspan’s Baking with Julia.  It’s not that I haven’t been baking, really I have! In fact, dozens of loaves in my Paonia baker, farmer and friend’s wood-fired oven. I wish I had one! That oven absolutely bakes the best bread I’ve ever had, pizza too! Hana agrees!

Baguettes are proofed on couche (the floured cloth). My favorite bake this day was the oversized sour dough white and whole wheat loaves.

We had pizza for lunch with chickpea socca (in the cast iron pan) for the gluten-free bakers. Even Hana got a personal-sized oatmeal loaf!

And although I didn’t get them done on the TWD schedule, here’s my not quick Cranberry Walnut Pumpkin Loaves and Bagels. They were both fun to make and turned out pretty well. I get the feeling the pumpkin bread will make another appearance on Thanksgiving when my kids join us. And bagels are one of my favorite breads. I made some tweaks to the recipe because I think bagels need to be dense and chewy and never have enough sesame seeds. These were easy enough to make with the overnight rise, shaping chilled dough and immediately boiling and baking, so I hope to bake and not buy bagels from now on.

For the pumpkin bread start by roasting a pie pumpkin. I used a variety called Winter Luxury and got enough punkin’ purée for bread and a pie down the road.

I melted the butter to combine it with the pumpkin and sugar, rather than creaming it. Here’s the finished dough.

Instead of making three little pan loaves, I rolled out three strands of dough to braid. Here’s the braid before and after proofing.

The egg wash gives the bread a very dark crust. This particular pumpkin wasn’t very sweet, so next time I’ll be sure to adjust the sugar. Pretty slices though!

Onto the bagels. I substituted a 1/2 cup of rye and 1 cup of whole wheat for some of the all purpose flour, and added a little vital wheat gluten for some extra chew. I left out the shortening in the recipe as well. After an overnight rise in the refrigerator bagels were shaped from the still chilly dough and almost immediately went for a swim in the hot tub.

A brief drain on a rack, then the still wet and now poofy bagel gets lots of seeds on BOTH sides (I like sesame seeds).

Onto the sheet pan, into a hot oven for about a half hour. I barely let them cool.

Yum! Warm seedy buttery jammy homemade bagel. Wow!


back to bread

September 18, 2012 § 16 Comments

Porcelain berry vines display their namesakes in late summer

We had so many hot dry days (a record number) this summer, but the autumnal equinox is right around the corner. Cooler night time temperatures are reminding the tomatoes they need to hurry up and ripen, and the day time temps are bouncing from the 80’s to 60’s. I took advantage of a 60 degree day to bake the Whole Wheat loaves from Baking with Julia with the TWD group today.

Farmer John (yes, that is really his name) has been experimenting with growing grains in Boulder County the last few years, with rye joining his hard red winter wheat this year. I like the flavor of rye so I added a little to this recipe. And while Craig Kominiak’s recipe called for malt extract (available at beer brewing supply stores) I used the barley malt syrup I had on hand. It contributed a rounded toasted sweetness to the bread, along with the small amount of honey called for. I skipped adding the even smaller amount of oil in the recipe.

For baking I almost always use a scale to measure ingredients by weight, and I find it especially important when baking bread to help get predictable and consistent results. I use 5 oz. per cup of flour (any type, it’s close enough), 7 oz. per cup of granulated or brown sugar, 8 oz. works for a cup of most liquids, water, milk, oils, butter, but not all (honey is much denser than water for instance). I found this recipe on the dry side for me and at our altitude of 5000′. For the total two pounds of flour, I up’d the water to 2 3/4 cups. In baker’s math, this means 22 oz. water/32 oz. flour = 68%, which is the target hydration that tends to give results I like. I also had to lengthen the baking time by about 10 minutes for this wetter dough.

I lightly mixed all the ingredients together except for the salt, covered the dough and let it rest for a half hour. I like to do this for a couple of reasons. Salt strengthens gluten and inhibits yeast activity, so I lighten the load on my mixer a bit and let the yeast get going. The rest period allows the flour grains to thoroughly hydrate and gluten actually starts to develop on its own. You can even see a few strands in the second picture after the dough has rested and even risen a bit.

I sprinkle the salt over the rested dough and then mix with the dough hook on a low speed (2 on the KitchenAid). It only takes 4-5 minutes instead of the 10 minutes at medium to achieve a well-kneaded dough with adequate gluten development.

I had an appointment in town and some errands to run so I covered the dough and popped it into the refrigerator for a slow leisurely rise (this is called retarding since you’re slowing the dough’s activity).

The dough was fully risen without being over-fermented by the time I got back home 3-4 hours later. I decided to roll in some plumped raisins, chopped toasted walnuts and some chopped candied orange peel leftover from poaching apples for FFwD last week.

The recipe makes two loaves, so I made one plain and the other with the raisin nut add-ins. Don’t forget to butter the baking dish!

Since the dough is chilled from the refrigerator it takes over an hour to rise enough to fill the pans. And being half whole grain and half white flour, the loaves are pretty heavy and don’t rise much more in the oven.

This bread had a very moist crumb that benefits from toasting. Some butter and cinnamon sugar doesn’t hurt either!

sesame semolina breads

July 17, 2012 § 16 Comments

Breakfast – slices of sesame semolina toast, Farmer Mark’s fresh chèvre, apricot jam I just made a few days ago and my favorite locally roasted coffee!

Noted Italian baker, cookbook writer and culinary instructor Nick Malgieri’s semolina bread from Baking with Julia seemed to get mixed reviews from the Tuesdays with Dorie baking group. Semolina bread happens to be one of the non-whole grain breads I really like, probably because I also love pasta (yes, also the non-whole wheat type which tends to break up when I cook it). With a couple of tweaks, the bread was easy to get together in an afternoon in time for dinner with leftovers for toast the next morning. The original recipe can be found here and here if you don’t have the book. Changes I made to the recipe included:

  1. reducing the rise time for the sponge from 2 to 1 hour by using instant yeast in place of active dry
  2. reducing the salt from 2 to 1 teaspoon
  3. reducing both the bulk rise and shaped loaf proof times to an hour or less
  4. preheating the oven to 500°F, then dropping it to 425ºF for baking (with steam)
  5. reducing the bake time to just over 25 minutes (BTW at altitude, there’s no way to get to 210°F internal temperature without completely drying the loaf; remember water turns to steam and disappears at 200°F at a mile high)

Of course some of these changes are inter-related. Since salt slows yeast activity, the rise and proof times were shortened since I used a lot less salt. I think I actually reduced the salt a little too much. I used kosher salt, so a teaspoon of kosher is LESS than a teaspoon of fine grain salt (think, a bucket of gravel weighs less than the same bucket of sand, because there is a lot more air space between the larger pieces of gravel/Kosher salt). This could also account for some of the perceived saltiness of this recipe, besides different taste preferences.

I raised the baking temperature to get better oven rise (“oven spring”) and color on the loaves, and to keep the bread’s crumb moist. Breads can sometimes dry out from longer bake times needed to brown the crust at lower temperatures. And I always bake breads on a well heated stone (500°F) with some water to steam the oven, which also helps with oven spring and crust color.

The sponge was bubbly, fragrant and well-risen after an hour so I added the rest of the ingredients to make the dough.

The final dough quickly came together and I covered it to rise for about an hour.

The dough was slightly over risen after just an hour, so I gently rounded it to give the gluten a little more strength. I covered it with the bowl to protect it from drying while it rested for just 5-10 minutes.

I had mixed a double batch, so I divided the dough in half. I gently stretched and then folded the half into thirds, like a letter. I then rolled and gently pressed the dough together from top to bottom, gave the loaf a final roll on the board and tucked the ends in towards the bottom seam.

Here’s the shaped loaf before I coated it with raw sesame seeds. To do this, I dampened a kitchen towel and laid it on a sheet pan along with a generous amount of seeds. I rolled the top side of the loaf on the wet towel, and then on the bed of seeds. You could also spritz the top of the loaf with water from a sprayer.

Here are the shaped loaves after they’ve been rolled in seeds, ready to proof on the parchment-lined sheet pan.

I placed the pan with the loaves into a large plastic bag and trapped some air inside so they proofed without touching the plastic. Meanwhile I preheated the oven with a baking stone to 500°F for at least a half hour. Definitely needed the A/C on for the bake!

Here are the finished burnished loaves just out of the oven. The seeds made it a little harder to score the tops before baking, and if I scored a little deeper, the loaves could open up a little more. But I was pretty happy with the result of a simple tasty bread, good by itself, and made even better with farmstead chèvre and jam made from local seasonal fruit.

my Portlandia

June 12, 2012 § 2 Comments

I’m closing in on two weeks visiting a few friends and my daughter and her husband in Portland, OR. It’s my kind of place–lovely green spaces in the city, residences with beautiful ornamental and edible gardens, lots of good eateries and bakeries and an almost over the top local food and wine culture. Of course, you need to work off all those accessible and delicious calories, so there’s plenty of opportunity for walking, biking and other outdoor activities as long as the weather cooperates. Sigh, that’s where Portland falls short in terms of “a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there”. Last weekend provided the only two warm sunny days on the whole trip; that’s an average of one sunny day per week.

On approach to Portland you can see the Willamette (rhymes with “dammit”) River bisect the city from north to south. The airport isn’t busy at all even on a Friday when I walked by the passenger pickup zone and parking structure to catch a MAX train into town, part of Portland’s good bus and train public transportation system.

My daughter Laurel and I went to farmers’ markets on both Saturdays I was in town. Of course we had to go to the big central market on the PSU college campus which has EVERYTHING, but she usually shops at the small Hollywood neighborhood farmers’ market which is less of a zoo and has most of the local produce, baked goods and prepared foods.

Here’s a couple of items I can’t get from any Colorado farms, big porcini mushrooms (we bought one that fed all three of us) and sea beans, a unique crunchy salty vegetable that grows in salt marsh conditions.

I turned the porcini and sea beans into a Portlandia Salad with the addition of spring onions, fresh garlic and hazelnuts on greens (no, the vinegar, oil, salt and pepper were not local). The rest of our almost local meal were DIY fava bean purée, Oregon hard cheese and radish bruschetta and some king salmon (alas, from Alaska) son-in-law Alex grilled in The Big Green Egg (see previous post).

Avid bread baker Laurel made beautiful sesame semolina loaves. While they baked she enjoyed a plateful of local strawberries made even better with cake and whipped cream!

Of course, not all of our meals were at home. Portland definitely gives you that “so many restaurants, bakeries and food carts, so little time” feeling. We enjoyed an excellent Japanese bento lunch at Chef Naoko’s and an artful and delicious Mediterranean dinner at Tabla.

Here’s the Oaxacan pork tamale from Porque No taqueria and a scene from Ping, sister restaurant to the now well-known Thai-influenced Pok Pok.

I took many neighborhood walks, trying to work off those yummy calories. The lush growth in many front yards proved that you don’t need a green thumb to successfully garden in Portland. Here’s some of what’s growing and flowering in June–

…white dogwood tree, simple magenta peony…

…pink rhododendron, though I saw more white ones, and a climbing rose…

…leaf patterns including one of my favorites, Japanese maple…

…Japanese maples grow in almost every yard to majestic stature…

…even the less cared for curbsides were blooming profusely, lilies and passionfruit…

…gardens, both whimsical and elegant…

…and homes, traditional and whimsical…

…good bye for now, Portlandia…


June 5, 2012 § 17 Comments

1. A fertile spot in a desert where water is found.
2. A pleasant or peaceful area or period in the midst of a difficult, troubled, or hectic place or situation.

1. I am most definitely where water is found, here in Portland, Oregon; I haven’t seen too much of the sun and plenty of drizzly grey. After our sunny SoCal visit to see family, I’m visiting my daughter Laurel and her husband Alex, who share their small duplex with two big cats nicknamed Smooth Cat and Fuzzy Cat (a brother and sister duo who obviously wear very different style coats).

Alex built this crazy cat house for Smooth and Fuzzy out of scrap and recycled materials; it makes for very happy cats!

2. And I’m in a pleasant, peaceful though still occasionally hectic time right now, so baking the Oasis Naan with the Tuesday group was a nice diversion. Laurel herself is an accomplished and worldly cook and baker. Most recently her go to book on Indian food has been How to Cook Indian by Sanjeev Kapoor. She selected and prepared the tandoori chicken with chaat masala spice mix, and a spicy dal of red lentils and kale. Alex manned the Big Green Egg wood-fired grill to cook the chicken and bake the naans, and opened a bottle of one of Oregon’s famed pinot noirs. It was a fun and delicious first dinner in their Portland home for me. Here’s how Oasis Naan fared for us…

Even though baker-authors Jeffry Alford and Naomi Duguid directions were for hand kneading, I elected to use the big KitchenAid mixer. Yup, Laurel has one just like her mom. And of course, I just had to make one of the cups of flour whole wheat. I used the flat beater for the first “100 strokes” since the mixture was more like a batter than a dough at the beginning.

Five cups total of flour went into the mix, the lowest amount so it was a pretty wet dough. But five minutes or so of kneading on speed 2 with the dough hook brought the dough together with a good amount of gluten development. Here it is before rising.

And here it is after a second rise. I actually let it rise a third time as we wanted to cook the tandoori chicken first so the naans had to wait an additional hour before baking.

Here are the naans, portioned and lightly rounded. The wet dough wanted to stick, so there’s some flour on the parchment paper. Since there so much more humidity in Oregon than Colorado, I used a tea towel instead of plastic to cover the dough at various stages. Notice the tight quarters; the wood bench is just slightly bigger than a 2×2 foot square.

On the generously floured bench I rolled the dough to about 1/4 inch thickness and then pricked heavily with a fork.

Laurel keeps a heavy duty water sprayer on hand for creating steam when she bakes bread, so I used it to mist the top of the naans so the toppings of seeds and scallions would stay put.

Meanwhile Alex’s been cooking the tandoori chicken in the Big Green Egg. To save fuel and time, the baking stone is heating on a rack beneath the chicken (protected by a large drip pan), so cooking is by indirect instead of direct heat.

When the chicken is done, the stone is moved up to the top rack and heated some more for baking bread. We didn’t have quite enough fuel for the long cooking/baking time, so while the last naans finish, the temperature was low enough to put the chicken back on the grill for a quick reheat. This naan has black onion seeds (nigella or kalonji) instead of the cumin specified in the recipe. Since she’s travelled in Asia and enjoys cooking various world cuisines, Laurel has the most extensive spice collection I know.

Dinner is served – dal, tandoori drumstick, oasis naan and the Oregon pinot. The naan bread had some earthiness from the whole wheat and the extra bit of salt sprinkled on top brought out the flavors. The breads were crusty on the bottom, softer on top and chewy inside, so the Big Green Egg did a good job. It probably helped that the dough was wet since baking in an outdoor grill which is vented is much more drying than a conventional oven. A fun and delicious meal, and made with joy with family! Thanks, Laurel and Alex!

Nancy Silverton’s gone Italian

May 15, 2012 § 10 Comments

This is the original Nancy Silverton pecan sticky bun from the La Brea Bakery

As I mentioned this morning we’re in L.A. right now, catching up on family time. One of our favorite foodie places to visit is the original La Brea bakery Nancy Silverton opened in 1989, next door to her then husband’s restaurant Campanile. Occasionally on weekends I used to stand in an early morning line of customers that straggled down the block to buy what was probably the best bread in L.A. Chef Mark Peel still owns and runs the restaurant, but Silverton sold her interests in Campanile and La Brea. The news media reported she lost that nest egg in 2008 to Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme. But that girl (now approaching her 60’s) has energy, determination and a passion for all things pastry and bread that just won’t quit. She’s teamed up with Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich (Lydia’s son) to form the Mozza restaurant group which includes a high-end Italian restaurant, pizzeria, to-go-and-delivery operation and an event venue. Tuesdays with Dorie’s sticky bun challenge was the catalyst for an afternoon’s drive through Hollywood to visit her old and new food stomping grounds–fun, delicious and expensive!

I feel like a tourist on our drive through Hollywood past the palm tree studded streets and hillsides. Must be a Marilyn Monroe look alike in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

I always shopped in the morning after making the long drive one day and the bakery had closed early because they sold out of bread! The loaves I got today looked beautiful, but were a little dry. Sigh…

Mozza2Go is only a few blocks away on our way back. Silverton’s focaccia has an open stretchy crumb and a generous dousing of olive oil pools in all the crevices. The bread is fragrant and salty, more about texture than flavor, beautiful and delicious. The antipasti and salads are very fresh and flavorful, making the perfect warm spring evening al fresco dinner. For dessert, we nibble on La Brea’s chocolate sour cherry bread and share Mozza’s butterscotch budino (Italian pudding), both signature Silverton creations. You can learn about Mozza Cookbook here and enjoy a few recipes from the book here.

apricot pecan cinna-buns

May 15, 2012 § 12 Comments

Published over 25 years ago, Baking with Julia is not shy about the butter. After all the cookbook is based on Julia Child’s PBS television series, and one of her famous lines is “If you are afraid of butter, use cream.” A young Nancy Silverton, known more for her artisanal sourdough breads than excessive use of butter, shows she can be right at home in Julia’s kitchen, with her brioche-based pecan sticky buns weighing in at over a pound of butter and 3/4 pound of sugar for a dozen or so buns. I reduced both ingredients by more than half, and we still enjoyed a rich and sweet breakfast treat. Although not as deliciously decadent as the originals, at least we lived to tell about it.

The recipe begins with an unusual method of proofing a sponge under half of its flour. When the flour “cracks”, you have a clear indicator that the sponge is ready to use. I’m in L.A. baking at sea level this month. My mom’s KitchenAid mixer is probably close to 50 years old, so I baby the old girl and skimp on the mixing time and keep the speed on low.

This is the softest stickiest brioche dough I’ve ever made (I only add 4 oz. instead of 6 oz. of very soft butter, but make it up with 1/4 cup of full fat yogurt). Since the sponge was really active, I decide to skip the room temperature rise and put it directly into the refrigerator for an overnight rise. It almost doubles overnight.

I decided to skip Nancy’s signature technique of laminating 6 more ounces of butter into the chilled dough. Instead I made a filling by beating 3 oz. of very soft butter with 2/3 cup brown sugar, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon and a generous pinch of salt.

I toast then chop 1 cup of pecans and chop 1/2 cup of California Bleinheim apricots. I line the bottom and sides of a 9×13-inch baking pan with parchment. Only when everything is ready do I take the dough out of the refrigerator. I’m going to roll out all of the dough instead of doing half at a time, so I need to work fast so it doesn’t warm up and get sticky. To save more time I also want to get the buns into the pan without having to re-chill the dough (think how late can I sleep and still have these in the morning).

The cinnamon butter sugar mixture doesn’t look like enough but easily covers the full batch of rolled out dough

Sprinkle your choice of goodies over the filling and then gently but quickly roll up towards the “naked” edge which will stick and hold everything inside. Brush off any excess flour with a pastry brush, and if the dough sticks to the board, free it with a knife or other metal edge.

It’s easiest to mark then cut the roll into halves, then quarters and then cut each quarter into 4 pieces. The ends are smaller, so I stuff them into the center of the pan, arranging the rest of the buns in a 3 x 5 pattern. In less than an hour, the buns have proofed to fill the pan and are ready to bake. (My lighting isn’t consistent, but yes, the dough was a beautiful golden yellow from the farm eggs I used.)

Since I’m using a bigger pan than the recipe specified, I reduce the baking temperature slightly to 325°F and bake until the tops are pretty evenly browned. This dough is so moist, tender and rich I don’t really miss the sticky topping, and using a buttery filling gives a similar effect to laminating, while saving a lot of time. The shortcuts also cut down on the messes and cleanup time, so I’ll probably stick to doing these cinna-buns instead of sticky buns. This is my new favorite brioche recipe though, and you can find links to the recipe, plus other bakers’ buns at Tuesdays with Dorie.

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