Monday, October 8, 2007

Thom Leonard's Country French

My latest bread is Thom Leonard's Country French from Maggie Glezer's Artisan Baking book. This bread was a challenge, because it was a huge loaf and the dough never seemed to want to cooperate with me. It turned out pretty nice considering that I thought it was ruined when it came out of the proofing looked like a pancake. But, after slinging the basket across the room, I was able to get it formed back into a boule shape and get it into the oven. It had a lot of oven spring and came back nicely.

The flavor is mildly sour and the crumb is very moist and chewy. Just what I think a sourdough should be. The family loves that's really all that matters anyway isn't it?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

We've found our sandwich loaf

We've been trying to get away from buying bread for a long time. It just isn't convenient to plan, proof, and bake a loaf every time we need one, but now that I am baking bread almost everyday it just seems odd to buy those bland loaves from the store. (Can you say run-on sentence?) It doesn't really save money, because bread is cheap and good flour isn't. Another thing is that we just haven't ever found a recipe that is reliable and good every time...until now. I think we have finally found our loaf...Bernard Clayton's Sourdough Oatmeal loaf. This bread is very good, and relatively easy to make. As you can see from the pics, it is a very nice loaf.

The crumb is very moist, but holds up as a sandwich. There is a little tang from the sourdough, but a sweetness from the honey. The crust is golden and colorful. The recipe is very far.

There are little tender chunks of oats throughout the bread, that give it just a little texture. I substitute about a cup of fine ground whole wheat flour for some of the bread flour to make it a little more healthy.

If you haven't seen Bernard Clayton's book I would highly recommend it. The name of it is The New Complete Book of Breads. I actually don't have it yet...I got it from the library, but it has a bunch of nice looking recipes and new ideas for bread. If Sandy will let me get another book (I've purchased several bread baking books in the last month) I will be getting this one. I thought I had all of the books that I wanted, but there always seems to be just one more...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sourdough Baguettes

Sourdough baguettes...Are we in the French countryside? No, just trying to master this thing called sourdough. I love the tangy taste (which, BTW some people do not like at all), of bread leavened only by sourdough, with no added yeast. It takes longer to ferment that way, which is what gives it the tangy flavor from the acid that is formed. Peter Reinhart explains all about enzymes, yeast, bacteria and acids in his new book, Whole Grain Breads so I won't go into it here.

I used the recipe from Peter Reinhart's first book BBA for Basic sourdough bread and formed the loaves into baguettes, "oui oui."(I couldn't resist) These long crusty loaves are some of the tastiest breads around. The dough smelled very tangy and good even before it was baked.

They were a little long for my sheet pan as you can see, but that's the kind of thing you have to deal with when baking bread. I just let them hang off the ends and hoped for the best. One thing that I haven't gotten down yet is slashing the bread. I used a razor blade, but they didn't spread out as much as I would've liked. Also the loaves weren't as brown as I like, but hey, I'm just starting out in this bread thing. There are numerous things that can go wrong when baking bread, but most of the time it is still very edible and good.

Here is the finished product...with a crumb pic.

This was very good bread, especially with my chicken and sausage gumbo left over from the freezer..."Laissez les bons temps rouler!" The kids really enjoyed it too!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Pizza Anyone?

My family loves pizza. Did you get that, I said my family loves pizza. I had to emphasize that, because it is one of the staples of our weekly meal plan. For years I have tried different recipes for crusts, sauce, cheese, etc., but I never could get the exact flavor and texture that I wanted. Pizza stone or no pizza stone, pan or no pan, broil at the end or not, baking powder or yeast, etc. etc. etc. I sometimes think that I made this perfect pizza thing up in my head. There's no perfect's just a dirty rumor, an urban myth...there is no such thing as good pizza!

I grew up in rural Appalachia and we didn't exactly have an Italian family pizzeria down the street. We did have the Pizza Palace, and I might add, I did enjoy their pizza bread and Mario Brothers. Sometimes we would travel a short distance to a town that had a Pizza Hut, and I enjoyed that, but is the crust supposed to be so greasy? My mom made pizza out of a box with the smoky sauce and baking powder crust...not bad...she always doctored it up a bit. My grandmother always bought Tony's pizza from the frozen section with the little tiny pepperoni. We would bake them late at night for a snack (BTW, they have changed the pizzas, now with regular size pepperoni, not the same). Please don't even think about one of those pizzas from the meat section with the big thick dough, red and green peppers and nasty sauce...I hated those. What about school pizza? Little frozen rectangles...they were pretty good. I remember talking my buddies into trading me their pizza for whatever...usually money. Finally, when I went to college, they had a Dominos...yes!! I ate Dominos pepperoni pizza until I couldn't eat another. Still, I always wondered if there wasn't something more out there...this couldn't be it...frozen pizza and a delivery guy wearing a blue suit and arguing that he was there in 30 minutes so he didn't have to give me a free pizza.

Then it happened. A few years ago there was a new pizza place that discretely opened in a shopping center on the edge of town (BTW, I live in a larger town now). It had an interesting name, Brooklyn Pizza. Everybody knows that people from Brooklyn know good pizza, foggettaboutit! But this could've been just another imposter, you know the guy up the street that knows nothing about good pizza decides he's going to open a pizza joint. But, that wasn't it, rumor had it that the guy had actually trained in Brooklyn with his buddy who owns one there. I thought, wow, this could be for real. The biggest thing that led me to believe that this was the real deal delivery. Is it possible, in this lazy town, where people don't even want to get up and call in the pizza let alone go get it, that this place could actually make it without delivery? I had to try it.

It was everything that I thought it would be. The crust was perfect...crisp on the outside...tender on the inside and thin in the middle, and it had flavor! The sauce was delicious, not out of a can. The cheese was obviously whole milk mozzarella, creamy and tender and perfectly brown on top. For a couple of years we ate there on a regular basis, but that gets expensive...especially if you have four kids. So, I decided that I could do this. I could make my own pizza...couldn't I? Well, I was going to try.

First I tried some recipes out of regular cookbooks, but the crusts were always to puffy, and no flavor. What made the crust taste so good at Brooklyn Pizza? It took me a long time (and a lot of mediocre pizzas) to figure it out, but I finally's time. That's right, time. The dough needs to ferment for a long time in order to have that interestingly sweet taste, that you find in your favorite pizzeria. The pizzerias save dough from the previous batch to give it this flavor (pate fermentee), but most of us don't bake pizza everyday. There are numerous baking books and websites that explain this, so I am not going to go into it now, but that is the answer to the big crust secret. If the recipe says you can be eating pizza a couple of hours after you mix the will not be a flavorful crust (if anyone knows another way to do it, let me know).

Now, the texture of the crust is almost impossible to match at home unless your oven goes up to 700 or 800F, because that is the temp that the good pizzerias use. This allows them to cook the pizza for just a few minutes as opposed to several minutes in a home oven. What difference does this make? Well, a big difference, because if you can brown the crust and cheese in say three minutes at 800F, then the crust will still be soft in the middle and tender on the outside. When you cook a pizza at 500F for say ten minutes, then the crust will be harder on the outside and most likely dry on the inside, but there is not much we can do about that. The best advice I have is, don't use too many toppings. I love toppings like the next guy, but it will cause your pizza to take too long to cook and you will end up with a soggy top and hard burnt bottom (the pizza that is). The toppings will give up water and seep down into the crust.

Here is the general recipe that I use:

My crust that I have chosen is Peter Reinhart's Pain a l'Ancienne dough from Bread Baker's Apprentice. Note: I do make the dough a little drier for the pizzas, because it is easier to handle. I also substitute 1/2 cup whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup corn meal for 1 cup of the flour, because I like the texture and flavor of the whole grains. This recipe makes six crusts, so you can freeze some in portions for later. This crust is the most flavorful one that I have tried, and the kids even eat the brown parts.

After a lot of research, I came up with a simple and tasty sauce. Take a 15 oz. can of Red Gold tomatoes (and yes it does matter, so use Red Gold or Red Pack brand), and drain it. Blend it with a clove or two of garlic and a pinch of salt to taste. Leave it chunky if you like or blend it forever, whatever flips your switch.

This is important...whole milk mozzarella. You don't have to buy the ten dollar buffalo mozzarella floating in water at the deli. Just dry whole milk mozzarella from the big chain stores left unmentioned. You can slice it or shred it, it's up to you.

You choose. Just remember, if you put big gobs of watery toppings on, you will never get the cheese brown and you will have a mess...although and edible one.

Other Advice:

  • Use a pizza stone and no pan (unless you make pan pizza)
  • Use cornmeal or semolina flour to keep the dough from sticking to the peel
  • Preheat your oven an hour ahead
  • Heat the oven as high as it will go (mine is 525F)
  • Clean your pizza stone before you use it (burnt cornmeal and/or cheese)
  • Put the sauce and toppings on at the last minute
  • Have everything ready to assemble (Mis en place)
  • Set a timer, so you won't burn the pizza
  • If your pizza sticks to the peel, don't panic, just gently lift the side that is sticking and add some cornmeal. Try again. (BTW, I am the world's worst for losing my cool when things don't go as planned, so this is a hard one for me)
  • Just remember, Most of the time even when you think the pizza is ruined, it is still edible and usually very good.
  • You are not a professional (yet), don't worry if it doesn't look like a pizza from an Italian wood'll get there.
  • Write down what happens so you can have a record of your experience (I hate writing stuff while I'm cooking, but you have to).

As far as a specific recipe, you don't really need one. I follow Peter's recipe in BBA as a guide, but all you need to do is:

  • Make the dough (remember you need to plan a day ahead)
  • Preheat the oven
  • Make the sauce
  • Gather toppings
  • Shred or slice cheese
  • Form one crust (takes practice and some patching)
  • Put the first crust on the cornmeal dusted peel
  • If the oven is hot, add sauce, toppings and cheese (remember be conservative on all)
  • With quick sliding motions make sure the pizza is free from the peel (you will be able to tell, because part of the pizza will not be moving like the rest)
  • Quickly open the door and slide the pizza on the stone
  • Set a timer for 7 or 8 minutes and stay close
  • Don't start the next pizza until the other is almost done
  • I use a cookie sheet to remove the pizza, so I can have my peel free to use for the next pizza
  • When the pizza is done, remove it and slide it onto a rack to cool a little and let the cheese set before cutting
  • Enjoy!

I hope this has been a help to some of you who are looking for a better pizza at home. We have saved bundles of money over going out to eat, and I hope you can too. Someday I hope to achieve the high temps that the professionals use by building my own wood fired oven in the backyard. Until then, I will just have to keep experimenting and enjoying the best pizzas I can make with what I have. Just remember you can always change and tweak your recipes in the is an ever changing process. I think that is why I love it so much.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Poilane-style miche

Well, here is the long awaited miche from Peter Reinhart's BBA. I think it turned out really good. I was actually very surprised because rarely do my breads look like the breads in cookbooks, but this one actually does.

BTW, has anyone ever tried to put a fully risen loaf this large onto a peel? I was scared that the thing would turn into a pancake, but I just said a little prayer and flopped it on there. It did lose a little bit of its gas, but the oven spring brought it back nicely.

I don't have much time to blog (as most of you do, I also have a real life, job and family), but I just had to get these pics up before I head off to work. I can't wait to try the bread tomorrow...
It smells like nothing I have ever baked before. You can smell the sourdough, wheat and the sweet smell of the crust all mixed into one. My house smells like a French bakery...I think...I don't really know that smell yet...maybe someday.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Soudough bread...finally!!

After two weeks, I have finally baked some sourdough loaves! They turned out pretty nice for a first try. I have been struggling with the starter for a while. My first batch even molded and I threw it out. I started back from scratch and it worked perfectly. The recipe that I used is from Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice.
The taste is different from any other bread that I have baked before. Tangy, yeasty, wheaty and just very good. The crumb is moist and the crust is chewy. I was afraid I over baked them because they registered almost 210F on the thermometer, but they are just perfect.
I have a large pain Poilane rising in the fridge right now also from BBA. More on that later...for now I am just enjoying my new bread. Sourdough may be more time consuming than other breads, but it is definitely worth it.
When I started this sourdough thing, I wondered why people go to such trouble instead of just using commercial yeast...but now I think I am starting to understand. There is something personal about growing your own wild yeast and watching as they slowly form into a crusty loaf. It makes it all worth while.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Multigrain bread extraordinaire

I just love multigrain breads. There's just something about all of those grains melding together into one loaf, but still keeping a little bit of their individuality (is that a word??). I have made many different multigrain loaves, and one of my favorites is Rose Beranbaum's loaf from the Bread Bible. I am always up for a new recipe so I thought I would try Peter Reinhart's multigrain bread extraordinaire from BBA. I did change the grains to Bob's Red Mill 10 grain cereal, because that is my favorite. Same amounts though.

This is the grain soaking overnight in a jar with water (soaker). A soaker is used to help break down the grains before being put into the dough. I guess that makes sense.

The next day the dough was mixed. I didn't have any brown rice cooked so I added left over white rice instead. The dough was very sticky, and I probably added little too much flour (you know that is the hardest thing to resist).

The dough turned out very nice and supple after 10 min in the mixer on medium speed. It even past the dreaded windowpane test for just a second or two. The grains that I used were still very visible in the dough, but that is the way I like it.

The dough registered 79 degrees F, which was within Peter's range. I put it in a greased bowl to rise until doubled, about 90 minutes.

Next, I placed the dough in a large loaf pan (BTW, Peter explains how to form most loaves in BBA), brushed the loaf with water and sprinkled with poppy seeds.

I covered the pan with plastic wrap and let it rise until about an inch over the top. Meanwhile I preheated the oven to 350F. The dough doubled in half the time, about 45 minutes, and I baked it on the middle shelf for about 40 minutes until it registered 190F on the thermometer.

This loaf turned out to be very good. Everyone really enjoyed it. Actually I am thinking about making this one of our sandwich loaves for the family. Wouldn't it be nice not to have to buy anymore factory produced, run-of-the-mill, bland bread from the store? I have to go back to the real world now...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Cinnamon Buns for Breakfast

I have been looking for a cinnamon roll recipe that suits my fancy for years. One time I made some that were just perfect. Not doughy and soggy like some, but more like a thin bread dough rolled with butter, sugar and cinnamon. They were baked in a small 8x8 square pan, so they didn't spread out, just up. They were very tall and tight, browned to perfection and drizzled with powdered sugar icing and delicious. Just as I have many times before (and since) I lost the was in a bread machine cookbook. You know one of those cheesy made up cookbooks that comes with the 30 dollar bread machines. It is probably buried somewhere in a closet or the dreaded attic, but where ever it is I haven't been able to match that recipe. Maybe if I found the recipe I would realize that it wasn't as good as I remember, but hopefully someday I will either find it or figure out the secret to match it. Until then I keep searching...

I have tried plain bread dough rolled with butter, cinnamon and sugar...too dry and not enough flavor. I want them to rise up through the middle, so that the center is higher than the rest like a mountain or volcano. I have also tried numerous other "recommended" recipes and recipes in various cookbooks, but most of them are the thick gummy sweet dough that reminds me of a honeybun. They always leave me with that yeasty aftertaste, that just doesn't go well with my coffee...

Well the bread machine has long since been given to Goodwill, and I keep searching... Last night I got about 4 hours sleep trying a new recipe, which I have to say is very good, but still not the ultimate cheapo bread machine recipe. It was the recipe from Peter Reinhart's book A Bread Baker's Apprentice on page 143 for cinnamon buns. The word buns lets me know that it is probably not what I am looking for, but I knew the kids would love them...and they did.

First, the shortening (or in my case butter since I was out of shortening) is creamed with sugar and salt. Then the egg is added and mixed in with the butter mixture. Peter adds lemon extract, which I omitted. Next, is the flour, yeast and liquid is added. I used a small amount of whole wheat flour, a cup of AP flour and the rest bread flour (If I had it to do over I would use all bread and whole wheat, because I am looking for a tougher dough). It is then mixed for a few minutes in the stand mixer with the paddle and 10 minutes with the dough hook. (Peter suggests that the dough should pass the windowpane test, but mine never did, probably because of the AP flour making it too tender) The dough is placed in a greased bowl to rise for 2 hours, then rolled out thin into a rectangle. (Mine was bigger than suggested in the book, but I just seemed too small at 14x12 inches) Next, the cinnamon sugar is sprinkled over the dough and it is rolled tight, jellyroll fashion. Then it is cut into large pieces about 1 1/2 to 2" thick, and placed in a 1/2 sheet pan lined with greased parchment. I went to the fridge with them (because of time, 1am now).

I set the alarm for 3AM and went to bed. Once the alarm went off, I stumbled downstairs and pulled the rolls out of the fridge (just in time I might add, because my sour dough starter was about to explode on the counter...but that's another post for another time). Now, I set the alarm for 5:30AM and went back to bed.

Now, the cinnamon buns had risen significantly, and were ready to go into the oven. I preheated the oven to 350 F and popped them in for about 25 minutes, until golden and cooked through.

They turned out very nice and smelled delicious...Everybody loved them...except maybe for one guy who's still searching for the perfect cinnamon roll.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Dough is Alive!

We just about always have some sort of dough rising in our house at all times. I am by no means an expert baker, but I do enjoy the smell, feel, sight and thought of fresh bread in the kitchen. I have just started getting very interested in baking bread and have engulfed myself in books, blogs and other websites about bread baking. Right now I have sourdough seed starter, ciabatta rising, and pizza dough in the fridge (All from Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice (BBA)). I feel satisfied that I am doing what I do. What I do is get very interested in certain subjects, for short periods of time. (BTW, you can ask my wife,Sandy, about that, because she can probably name at least a hundred different 'interests' I've had over the last 15 years we've been married.) Luckily for her, she has not been one of these short-lived interests (ha, ha). Back to bread baking, I don't think that this will be a short lived interest, but I could be wrong...for now though, I'm just going to enjoy the ride and maybe eat some good bread along the way. Definitely, I will learn some, possibly useless, information in the process.

I have been trying to take some pictures of the different processes that I have been trying for the last few days and taking notes, (which, BTW, I hate to do, because I lose my train of thought, but after years and years of forgetting the perfect recipe for some off the wall dish that I just happened to do very well...I caved and started taking notes.) Oh well, I am going to try to do better on this blog than on the last one that lasted for one entry. Yeah, I started another food blog...we had just gotten back from China (adopting our little girl) and I was very excited about the hot pot and other dishes that we had tried, but I never could get motivated to put any more entries on there. I have many pictures and food stories to share...maybe someday.

Anyway, I am married to my previously mentioned wife Sandy and we have 4 kids and number 5 on the way in October. All of the kids love bread and pizza, so they support my newest hobby.

A couple more thoughts before I go check the ciabatta dough...I really want to try sourdough baking (which from the different blogs and websites I have read is not too easy) and build my own wood fired oven in the back yard. If I can accomplish those two things in the next year, I will be somewhat satisfied about this bread thing...I think.