Friday, October 30, 2009

Soft & yummy no-knead challah?

The question mark is because we haven’t tasted it yet!  We’re saving these for Shabbos.

challahs 001

I’ve made the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day no-knead challah dough before, but that was during the holidays, so I just rolled them out quickly into spirals.  This was my first attempt using the dough for something as formal as braids.

My only concern is that I thought I felt a few lumps (hard spots) in the dough as I was rolling and forming the braids.  Hopefully, they will not be noticeable in the finished product. 

They sure do look promising, in any event!

Because the dough was so soft, the braids expanded quite a bit and even “ripped” a bit during baking.  Frankly, I don’t mind.

The loaves, though fully baked (I hope!) were still fairly soft when I took them off the pan – I had to use two hands to make sure they didn’t bend & fall apart in the middle.

Hopefully all that softness will translate into excellent, sweet, yummy challah. 

If so, it will be a nice change from last week’s Perfectly Disappointing Challah which looked beautiful but tasted like… nothing much.

I’ll let you know after Shabbos.  If they are at all good, this is the start of a new era… no more food processor, no more kneading… just good, good bread!

Sunday Postscript:  Oh my gosh, was this good challah!!!  Soft, yes, and sweet and delicious.  Not overly sweet and not perceptibly oily.  I liked the results I got with oil instead of butter.  I would definitely use it instead of margarine.  The only complaint, and it was a pretty trivial one, was Yerachmiel Meir:  “this bread is so soft it hurts my teeth to eat it.”  Apparently,  he loved the perfect bakery-style challah last week.  Tough noogies, big boy.  This delightful challah is our standing recipe for the next little while, anyway.

HEAD TO HEAD: Battle Margarine – Fleischmann’s vs Earth Balance

cookie 001 Read all about today’s misadventures in creating the World’s Ugliest Chocolate-Chip Cookie, as well as a preliminary review of this not-quite-revolutionary new margarine substitute, on my real blog, here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pletzl / Pletzel = Jewish Focaccia

Mmm, mmm, mmm… tonight we had the John Barrymore Onion Pletzel  from page 185 of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  No, I didn’t lie, and didn’t end up buying the book, but many of the recipes are available online.

I actually had a hankering for focaccia today, and was thinking about a tomato-onion motif, but started thinking more and more about just the onions.  Eventually, a bout of Googling brought me full circle to this recipe. 

I do love pletzl, when it’s made right, and this recipe is definitely the way to make it right.

For this one, I mixed up the master no-knead dough (I found it here, but there are numerous sources) last night and let it sit for a few hours before fridging it.

Here it is, first mixed:

alef bais 001 

I was surprised it was so dry, but it sure got moist and blobby-looking in the fridge overnight.  But despite its moist appearance, when I took it out and floured it up lightly this afternoon, it actually behaved really well and rolled out without much problem:

alef bais 005

(I was surprised it was so well-behaved because my previous no-knead bread attempts – successes! - used a much richer challah recipe which was decidedly moister)

While it rose, I lightly caramelized the onions.  I used half of a big purple onion.  And I have a new way of caramelizing them:  fry until translucent in a mix of olive and canola (you can use all olive, but I didn’t want too much olive oil taste), then add a cup or more of water.  Simmer on medium until the water is gone; add water a second time for extra-tender onions.  Finally, once the water is mostly gone, stir the onions until they are almost dry and starting to brown a little.  You don’t want them all the way brown for this recipe, or the baking will turn them into char.

With the purple onions, it was hard to tell if they were turning brown, but I decided this was done enough.  (Elisheva:  “ew, Mommy; nobody’s going to want to look at that - those look exactly like worms in that picture!”)

 alef bais 006 

I drizzled it with more oil – canola, again, didn’t want a strong taste, and probably used more than I should have, but mmm, it was yummier for the extravagance!

The bake took way longer at 350° than the recipe suggested.  Like maybe 15-20 minutes more, almost doubling the time.  I didn’t think I made it too thick, but I might try a bit thinner next time (though in that case I don’t have a baking pan big enough!).

I had to run out, so I made Ted lift it up from the pan to check the bottom until it was done.  (I used white grits underneath so it wouldn’t stick… they really give the best, crunchiest texture!).

And finally, here it was – the best most amazingest pletzl ever.

 alef bais 008 

Kind of like the one at the Rideau Bakery in Ottawa, only fresher, breadier.  Mmm… Here’s a close-up!

alef bais 009

And here it is plated alongside oven-roasted ratatouille (a fancy way of saying veggies tossed up in a roasting pan), with broccoli soup on the side.

pletzl 002

And the taste?  Tremendous crunch on the outside; almost-tough bottom crust while the inside was hole-y and tremendous like the artisan bread the book promises.  I really, really wish I’d liked the look and feel of the book more, because the recipes themselves are so great!  (2 tried so far, including the challah)

So in conclusion, we’re living like kings!  It’s easy when you start with amazing fresh bread…

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Breads Cookbook Near-Miss!

Stopped at Chapters/Indigo on the way home from my ASL class tonight (which is why taking the bus never saves us any money!) and spent some time dithering over these two bread books:
 
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking
 
and
 
Baking Artisan Bread: 10 Expert Formulas for Baking Better Bread at Home
 
 
In the end, I decided to buy neither book. 
 
They were $30 each and might make a nice gift item, but I decided they weren't essential at the present time.
 
There are a lot of similarities:  both present a formula-based approach that uses a few basic dough recipes to create a huge range of breads. 
 
I loved the illustrations in Artisan Bread, which show some important details like the consistency of the dough, though I wished they could have been higher-quality (they're basic black and white).  I also like its approach, which is reassuring and not too slick - it really seems well-suited to the humble home baker, without demanding a lot of special equipment or ingredients.  However, I found that it also included too many recipes for things that are not bread (salads and tuna and whatnot to go with bread). 
 
Baking Artisan Bread sticks mostly to breads and bready things, and the illustrations are full-colour and very slick.  It also includes a DVD, which I couldn't preview obviously, and the DVD may make the whole thing worthwhile, ultimately.  But my decision was based, partly, on the fact that it is not a very thick book.  You really only get a few recipes you can actually use.  I may revisit it, however, if it seems that reviewers have said that the DVD is very helpful.
 
I did buy an ASL dictionary (The Pocket Dictionary Of Signing (Perigee) ) to replace the pocket-sized one that got lost three weeks ago (Random House Webster's Pocket American Sign Language Dictionary - purse-sized and ever so cool!).  It's not as good as the missing one, but I don't want to end up with two copies of the same dictionary!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A rye commentary

outdoors 007As a special treat to go with the sliced meats we were planning for Shabbos lunch, I decided to use the all-rye sourdough I’ve been building all week. 

I mean, it was so happy and bubbly and READY, and I couldn’t just stick it in the fridge without baking it up.  How heartless would that have been???

(I started this sourdough from scratch last Saturday night.  Here’s an earlier picture.  And another.)

I used the 40% Caraway Rye on Page 194 of  Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes (B:ABB), which I’ve been testing out all week.  I did, however, omit the caraway because I am probably the only Jewish person who doesn’t enjoy “kimmel” in her rye.

As when I made the book’s Vermont Sourdough earlier this week, I was astonished that the recipe only calls for 2 Tbsp of the original, mature starter.  However, the Caraway Rye does offer a bit of a cheat in the form of a teaspoon of commercial yeast added to the final mix.  Not sure why it’s necessary, except perhaps for increasing the speed of the final ferment.

Anyway, the initial overnight rise used just the 2 Tbsp of my starter and performed wonderfully.  I was getting anxious about Shabbos coming, so didn’t leave it for quite the 14-16 hours B:ABB recommends.  Nevertheless, it was very active by the time I did the final mix.

Here are the two loaves.  I tried to make one pointier on the ends, but the other one, I just left as an oval:

ryes 018

I forgot to take a picture after slashing the loaves, so here I’ve snuck a peek in the oven when I opened it to spray (For all artisan-style breads, I have been spraying every 2 minutes of the first ten.  There’s also a pan of ice cubes next to the bread, and a pan of very hot water directly underneath.)

ryes 019 

And here are the finished loaves.  Slightly overdone on the top and sides… next time, I’ll probably do five or even ten minutes less.

ryes 020

Here’s the final “crumb” of the bread.  Quite dense, and yes, a few white streaks where I was unsuccessful in incorporating the rye sourdough with the all-white final dough.

ryes2 003

The taste was quite lovely.  I think it might need a little more salt next time; this recipe calls for only 1 Tbsp, which seems a little low.  For me, salt helps bring out the flavour of the sourness in the dough.  Which was faint but distinctively present.

Given the strong (but tasty) rye flavour of this bread, I don’t know if I need to try the higher-percentage rye recipes later on in B:ABB’s rye chapter.  My mother’s comment:  “this would be good with some butter.”  (we were eating a meat meal at the time)

Ted also seemed to enjoy it.  His tastes definitely run towards dark, dark, rye breads, the denser and nastier, the better.

So… definitely one to make again.  Once we have used up the two loaves we currently have sitting around!

Oh – but the sliced-meat sandwiches I was dreaming of?  In my sleepy delirium, I also planned turkey puff pastries for Shabbos lunch.  And in Ted’s sleepy delirium (we sleep quite close to each other in the same screaming-baby middle-of-the-night household), he only bought one package of one kind of meat. 

In our joint sleepy delirium on Friday, we stuck all the turkey into puff pastries, baked them up and forgot all about it… until Friday night when we realized there would be no deli sandwiches for Shabbos lunch.

Hey!  I just thought of something!  Why don’t we all have deli sandwiches for tomorrow night’s supper???  In fact, B:ABB suggests that with rye breads (though mostly high-percentage rye breads), you must let the bread rest for at least 24 hours before eating, to allow the flavours to fully develop.

So there.  Tomorrow night, we will eat the fully-developed rye bread, piled high with meat, meat, MEAT:  a celebration of CARNAGE!

Yes, I’m happy once again.

Perfectly disappointing challah

To celebrate the conclusion of our Week in Bread and also to get myself thoroughly back on the challah wagon after using storebought (gasp!) last Shabbos, I made the Challah straight off of Page 240 Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes (B:ABB), which I’ve been using as inspiration and technical guide all week.

The recipe actually appears twice, with the exact same formula and instructions - once in the chapter on straight doughs and once in the chapter on braiding.  Is that considerate, not making the reader flip back to find the recipe, or is it inconsiderate, making the reader pay more for extra pages that duplicate a recipe found elsewhere in the book?  Just weird, I think.

Anyway, the recipe uses way more eggs than I usually use, and a lot less sugar, but I followed it more or less literally (discovered I was out of canola oil, didn’t want to sub olive oil, so I used margarine instead – there isn’t much in the recipe, so I figured the taste wouldn’t come through (it didn’t).

So.

ryes 002All in all, I’d say this bread has a GREAT texture for braiding.  With no folding whatsoever during the bulk ferment phase, I ended up with a nice, strong dough that rolled out and braided up super-easily after two or three hours.

I decided to do a fancy 6-braid instead of my standard 4-braid.  Easy enough, but it was almost 2 in the morning and I didn’t have the energy to make sure the strands were even

I left the loaves in the glass pans to rise overnight in the fridge (they did, very nicely).  Probably should have taken them out to bake, but anyway, I didn’t.

ryes 007Rose another whole bunch in the oven, making these very high loaves indeed… with that rectangular bottom, they look like something you could stick in a commercial bread slicing machine and come away with a nice sandwich loaf.

One of the loaves folded a little bit when I stuck it in the glass pan, creating the unpleasant-looking crease you can see in the bottom bread.  (I should have taken it out right away and put it back in the pan while tucking the ends a little further under, but it was late – I was tired).

 ryes 005 

A little stringy-looking on the outside crust (I don’t mess around with egg wash and toppings until I’m sure I’ve got a winner recipe!), but absolutely perfect-looking inside:

ryes2 002

And the taste?

Also absolutely perfect…  yet utterly disappointing!

Amazingly enough, all of that careful following-of-instructions created just about the most perfect challah texture I have ever made.  Probably all that egg meant that when you tear off a piece, it comes away with long fluffy strands that look almost like cotton candy.  Bakery perfect texture, absolutely. 

Everybody ooh’d and aah’d.  Lovely!

Yet the flavour was also bakery-perfect.  Just not necessarily that of a bakery I myself would frequent.  I don’t like bakery egg challahs very much, and I was hoping that making it at home would give the challah an extra something to make me love it.

So… I think the extra “something” that I love is oil, and sweet… and not necessarily egg.  I don’t love eggy challah, and now I know that no matter how meticulously I make it at home, I will probably never love eggy challah.

I guess I have to conclude that B:ABB offers a classic, pareve (thank you!) egg challah recipe that will satisfy the taste buds of most consumers.  Certainly, it’s what all the bakeries around here seem to produce and I doubt they have a problem selling them.

Just not to me.

(Or Elisheva; she made a long, sad face and said it looked lovely but that it wasn’t my regular challah.  Next week!)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Margarine. Ugh.

I know a couple of people who seem to adore margarine.  Maybe not as much as butter, but they are happy as clams to shmeer their bread with it at fleishik meals and eat desserts made primarily with margarine.
 
All I can say is ugh.
 
I cannot force myself to think of margarine, particularly the pareve kind (which is all we buy), as anything less than an abomination.  Perhaps the dairy margarines have some redeeming whey flavour, but the pareve ones are just cloying, cloying, like in the Ugly Blueberry Cake I baked before Sukkos.  It was otherwise delicious, an absolutely out-of-this-world cake (if a little on the potchkedik side), but almost inedible - to me - due to its predominantly margarine aftertaste.  I certainly plan to revisit the recipe at some point when I'm looking for a special dairy dessert... but in the meantime, well, feh.
 
I used to use Butter-flavoured Crisco, and found it not as terrible as margarine.  But a few years back, they switched its production around so that it is no longer pareve.  Which, to me, means there is no point.  I mean, if I'm baking with a dairy fat product, my fat product of choice is always going to be butter.
 
The weird-kosher-brand margarines are worse, I suspect, though I have never sat down and done a taste test.  The only real plus is that they are sold in stick form, rather than tub, so theoretically, they're better for baking.  I have heard from others, though, that the taste utterly eliminates any possible advantage the format could convey.
 
I've heard of people using solid oils like palm or coconut in baking.  My fear is that those would convey unpleasant, or at least, unfamiliar flavours.  I really, really need my chocolate-chip cookies to taste the way I expect them to.
 
Why am I on about this right now?
 
Two reasons:
 
One, I just sent Ted to the grocery store to see if he can pick up a package of Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks, which I have read online are less horrible than the margarine equivalent.  We'll see how it works out - both whether he finds it, and whether it works out in baking today's ginger cookies (from a mix) (we love these cookies!).
 
My other reason was:
 
Two, I foolishly ran out of canola oil (I swear, I thought there was more downstairs in the potato room!), so had to substitute about 5 Tbsp of Fleishmann's pareve (blue-tub) margarine in the challah recipe I'm trying out.  Drat!  But I figured 5 Tbsp with over 7 cups of flour will probably not be as detectable as it would be in cookies or in a cake.
 
Surely there is some way of creating a perfect pareve margarine that tastes great, bakes well, spreads great (well, I doubt I'd use it for spreading in any event).  And it wouldn't be an entirely altruistic invention, either:  there are probably millions of kosher, allergic, vegan and other consumers who'd be drooling for baked goods made with this wonderful substance.
 
You couldn't call it margarine, of course:  that has been too stigmatized by the horrid ones that are out already.  No, call it something new and exciting like Stick-Ola or Parev-ette.  Oy.  Well, I'll be the concept partner... someone else can actually invent it, plus handle the marketing end.  Anyone want to go into business?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Just loafin’ around…

vermont 009Well, this isn’t the QUICKEST bread around, but it surely must be some of the most delicious.

Yes – it is sourdough success!  Once again!

This is the Vermont Sourdough from 153 of Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes (B:ABB) (see previous posts for background and other recipes I’m trying this week as I hop back up on the bread wagon big time after weeks of relative breadlessness).

So.  How long, exactly, for delicious Vermont-style Sourdough (only Vermont-style because my starter lives here with me, in Toronto!).

Let’s see… well, weeks to cultivate the starter to begin with.  We won’t count that!

Saturday:  Took “Starter A” out of fridge after Shabbos to wake it up after a relatively long doze.  (I have two batches of my main starter and I’m trying to alternate which one I use so they both stay as fresh and active as possible).  Fed once.  (5 minutes)

Sunday:  Fed Starter A twice. (10 minutes)

Monday:  Fed Starter A twice. (10 minutes)

Tuesday:  Fed Starter A once in the morning.  (5 minutes)

At night, when it was good and bubbly, I took out a few Tbsps to use in creating the levain (liquidy preferment) for the sourdough bread.  Most recipes call for half a cup or more of starter… I was amazed that so little could have any leavening power whatsoever.   Returned the rest to the fridge.  (10 minutes to make the levain)

Wednesday:  Around noon, create the “autolyse” phase of the dough (essentially, a salt-less, loose preliminary mixture) using the levain plus more flour and water (many sourdough recipes use the levain as the only liquid).   Let stand 20 minutes.  (5 minutes to mix)

Add salt and a bit more flour, knead 5 minutes by hand (nothing this big will fit in my food processor and I don’t have a stand mixer.  Yet!  (10 minutes’ active work altogether)

Let stand, covered with plastic, for 2 1/2 hour “bulk fermentation” process.  Ideally, fold twice, but I only folded once. (5 minutes to take out, fold, put away again)

Form into two loaf-pan loaves.  (5 minutes to form loaves)

Let stand, covered with plastic, for two-hour final ferment.

And it worked!  Here’s what it looked like after two hours.  I have never had such a beautiful final rise with sourdough before.  All from a few tablespoons of my very own starter; no commercial yeast.  I was shocked!

vermont 001 

Here, I’ve used the scissors-slash technique shown in B:ABB, which I really love because it’s quick and feels way cool to stab the loaves before they go in.

vermont 002 

Finally, there’s a 45-minute bake in a very, VERY hot oven (460 degrees).  A presteamed oven, with spraying every 2 minutes of the first ten minutes.  (10 minutes to prepare oven and spray)

And then a bit of time to let the bread cool down, though as you can see from the picture at the top of the page, nobody waited.  It looks like weasels have torn the loaf up with their claws.

The family said the bread was very good.  And for how long it took, it had better be!

Active work time:  1 hour, 20 minutes. 

For a loaf of quite, QUITE good bread.  The trade-off of the smallish amount of sourdough is that the bread didn’t taste very sour.  On the other hand, I don’t think I really like it all that tangy.  There must be something in the middle, where the bread has a good, strong flavour… but isn’t unpleasantly sour.

Anyway, B:ABB may be many things, but it is not a bread book for those who like to leave their bread alone to do its own thing.  The author doesn’t seem to trust that good bread will just happen, as so many do.  I’m not sure exactly where I stand on this.  I do think if you put in effort, you get returns, but the returns probably diminish at some point.

I may be more of an Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day kind of baker than a B:ABB kind of baker.  That’s all I’m saying.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Whoah – sour dough!

Progress report on the rye sourdough.  Remember that this is a THICK paste comprising only dark rye flour and filtered water.  Last night, it filled about 1/4 of the jar.  NOW look at that baby go!

potto bred 006

Happy, happy.

I have a cold, but will try to give it a good deep sniff when I stir it down, split it and feed it … just to make sure nothing evil has taken up residence. 

Scared to death of having a sourdough starter ruined by bad bacteria!

Accursed Potato Bread

potto bred 007So I finally got around to making from scratch this amazing, yummy-looking potato bread, but once again (see my previous potato-bread attempt), things mysteriously went wrong along the way that can probably only be explained by one thing:  a Potato-Bread Curse.

First, I realized after I’d made up the dough (“hmm… seems surprisingly loose, even for no-knead bread”) that I’d used a 2/3 cup measure instead of a 1-cup measure.  Doh!  Even after adding a bunch more flour to compensate, the stuff was loose to the point of sticky, sticky, sticky.

Also, and this really is mysterious, I was super-distracted with the little kids, plus Elisheva was home sick today, so I basically chose a quantity of potatoes pretty much at random.  I roasted them with garlic, olive oil, a little salt and pepper.  When they were done, I mashed them and added the bread-water to them right away to cool them off.

The upshot of which was…“how much potato did you say to put in that bread, anyway?”  I have no clue how much potato was in there.  With the nonchalance of a Julia Child:  “Just toss some potatoes in there – never mind how many, just grab some!”

Needless to say, I suffered the consequences of these accumulated inexactitudes when trying to create an actual loaf from this stuff.

In its potato-bread recipe, Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes (B:ABB) warns that potatoes, even roasted, will add a whole bunch of extra moisture to your dough.  Sure enough, they did just that.

I could not even keep my hands floured enough to toss the thing into a basic boule shape.  However, eventually, I prevailed.  Yes, my hands were sticky and leprous by the time I was done.  But a loaf was formed, in a nice wide pan so it wouldn’t do the smurf-house muffin-shape thing, or, worse, overflow the pan and make a huge mess.

And… well, here’s what you’re waiting to hear.

I’m sorry, and truly deeply sorry, if you were looking for a moralistic, horrid, nasty-bread ending to the Story of the Potato Bread.  Because, in fact, we sat down at suppertime to a lively, crusty, delicious-tasting loaf:

potto bred 008

(only slightly underbaked because of all that darn extra moisture!)

I used small organic yellow potatoes, and roasted them instead of boiling.  I also – because they were organic, so I could! – kept the skins on, as B:ABB advises.  Because bits and pieces really are lovely in breads, aren’t they?

potto bred 011And you know what?  Nobody could identify what the mystery pieces were in the bread!

One child jokingly referred to them as slugs, but they added a sweet savouriness  much more reminiscent of caramelized onion than of pasty potato-ness.

So, all in all, another tasty, successful loaf.  I wouldn’t say mind-blowing, but certainly well on the way.  With a little practice, and maybe next time, a measuring cup or two.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Two sourdoughs

DSC05507Left, sourdough rye “paste” (kind of blobby).  A few bubbles, in the middle, maybe?

Right, white-flour liquid sourdough starter.  Really starting to get bubbly, after less than 24 hours: yay!

B:ABB Pain Rustique (Bun Style)

Not to be confused with Rustic Bread, a few pages later in Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes (B:ABB), the bread book that I’m using to get a kick-start into baking again.  I chose it pretty much at random due to its being comprehensive and friendly-looking on the shelf in the library.

To begin (well, continued from last night) … Happy Poolish!   Rested overnight and turned out nice and bubbly.  Amazing, considering there’s just a couple of pinches of yeast (he said to just use a few grains, but I just couldn’t)

DSC05443 

Mix the rest of the flour and yeast, rest the dough, fold, rest, fold again, rest again, “scale” (ie divide haphazardly into huge individual servings) and place in oiled, floured pan:

DSC05504 

Steam the oven like crazy and bake 35-40 minutes at 460 (wow – that’s a hot oven).  I used a pan of boiling water, a pan of ice cubes, and sprayed the inside of the oven with water every 2 minutes for the first ten minutes of baking.

Remove from oven, turn out on rack, and wa-laah!

DSC05509 

Oh, I forgot to mention I scored the buns with scissors as shown in B:ABB (p. 82).

DSC05512

A little dark on top.  I was surprised they browned so quickly, because B:ABB assured me that recipes without sugar, oil, eggs, etc., can take higher heat for longer without browning overly much.

We haven’t eaten these yet, so I’ll report back on the true test later on!

Postscript!  They were delicious!

Very well-received, but I don’t know if I’d describe them as exceptional.  The outside was very nice and crispy (yay, steam!) and the inside had a tactile chewiness that I really enjoyed.

Flavour?  Hmm… not as much as a sourdough.  A nice, French bready taste, I guess.  I am saving one for tomorrow so I can see how well it keeps.

Pictures!  (apologies for the weird colour in the first one.

birthday 001 birthday 002

…Just delightful for soaking up veggie chili and sharing with family!

DIY Birthday Cake-Mix Cake Decorating

DSC05513 I finally decided that if we don’t just bite the bullet and celebrate both boys’ birthdays today, it will never happen.  Gavriel Zev’s was almost two weeks ago, but we were too busy with Sukkos; there hasn’t been a Sunday that we weren’t busy.  Yerachmiel Meir’s was just last week.

The cakes are from a mix – some deep-dark chocolate thing that is impossible to ice over with white icing.  But the white doesn’t look too terrible, as long as you don’t look too closely.

The decorations were done with Cake Mate Scribblers, which smear and run much less than the gel-type squeeze icing.

The motif here is cheap and cheerful!  The whole endeavour cost a fraction of what a store-bought cake would have… probably for tastier, fresher cakes, to boot.

  DSC05514 DSC05515

Saturday, October 17, 2009

P.S. It's amazing...

None of the recipes I've come across so far in the B:ABB book are what you'd call fancy.   And it is incredible how many different breads, like a worlds-apart kind of difference, you can create with just four basic incredients:  flour, water, yeast, salt.
 
Even just a fine variation on the quantities combined with a minor variation in technique (creating a loose poolish instead of a thick pate fermentee to start the bread, for instance) can make a huuuge difference in how long it takes and what you end up with under your butter.
 
Yes, it's true; that's all bread is, for me - a very efficient, very delicious... vehicle for butter.

Atonement for Bread-ly Sins

sourdoughs 006

While I was been taking the last few weeks of Yamim Tovim to atone for various  sins of a spiritual nature (not that I am admitting to a single flaw!), I put my feeble and disheartening sourdough experiments on hold to focus on very basic Challahs That Work.

So!

Yom Tov is over!

And I’m free – at last – to go back to experimentation.

I started with a library book, Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes (B:ABB), which seems aimed at pretty high-level bakers, but may also have a lot to offer the mid-level home baker.

The author, Jeffrey Hamelman, a dauntingly professional baker with over 30 years’ experience, offers several versions of each recipe (generally called formulas), including a US Imperial version, a Metric version… and also a scaled-down version for the home baker, which includes – with a spirit of resignation, but also without too much of the condescension I have seen elsewhere offers measuring-cup measurements for those of us who cheat and don’t weigh our ingredients.

There’s also, intriguingly, percentage formulas that professional bakers can use to scale the recipe up or down as much as they’d like to meet their own needs.  The percentages are cool because in a bread recipe, however-much flour the recipe needs is always called “100%.”  Then, all the other ingredients are shown as a proportion (by weight, not measuring cup!!!) of the flour.  So a given recipe may require 69% water – in other words, 20lb of flour will need 13.8lb of water.

In other words, highly technical, but a tasty glimpse into how professional bakers work.

I probably shouldn’t have been reading this over Shabbos, but anyway, I did.  Too late to stop myself now.

And after Shabbos, despite being laid up all day with sad, sick lungs, I hauled myself off the sofa to begin the threefold physical process of atonement, in the form of the three mixtures shown in the photo above.

First, a new RYE sourdough starter, from scratch.  This is straight out of the sourdough appendix of B:ABB.  I hope to keep it an all-rye starter, and it’s supposed to be a smooth paste.  Kind of lumpy and thick-looking to me; I may add more water the first time I feed it, tomorrow evening.

Second, revitalizing my neglected existing starter to make the Vermont Sourdough on Page 153 of B:ABB.  No, it’s not my new bread Bible, but it’s nice to have recipes that I don’t have to squint to make out on the computer monitor.  And it looks like a good, basic beginner’s sourdough.  

Plus, it only calls for 2 tablespoons of actual mature liquid sourdough starter – TWO tablespoons!  That is then mixed with flour and water to create the “liquid-levain” which then starts the dough.  But all of the Internet recipes I’ve found called for half a cup or more of the mature starter.  Perhaps that’s why the breads have come out tasting overly cheesy and sour.

So!  With new hope, I hauled out of the fridge one container of the starter, which I fed with plain unbleached white flour and filtered water.  I will leave it overnight and feed it again in the morning.  When will I make the sourdough?  Maybe on Monday… or maybe on Tuesday.

Last, and most urgently, for tomorrow’s supper:  Pain Rustique, on Page 111 of B:ABB.  (confusingly enough, the book offers a recipe for Rustic Bread two pages later - does he think maybe we don’t understand French?)  Again, a simple recipe:  a poolish-based basic bread. 

Poolish is a technique of “pre-fermenting” some of the flour, water and a tiny bit of commercial yeast.  It helps give the bread better taste and texture than if you just whomp the whole thing together the morning of.

Anyway, hopefully I’ll be able to bake it up tomorrow for YM’s birthday supper and actually remember to take some pictures to post here afterwards.  My mother made an absolutely great and memorable poolish-based rustic bread a couple of years ago and I just have not been able to get it out of my mind since.  I must make that bread!

Next up:  yes, another B:ABB project!  On Page 117, he offers a basic Roasted-Potato Bread recipe that looks easy, easy, easy.  I have been wanting to try another potato bread after the crazy weird one I made a few weeks ago turned out to be so absolutely delicious.  Should go even better now that I have an oven that works.

The big innovation with this potato bread recipe is that it calls for oven-roasted potatoes rather than boiled ones like most potato breads.  He also suggests leaving the skins on – the texture adds interest to the bread and if they’re organic, why the heck not?

All of which makes it sound easier than other recipes I’ve seen.  Though I may (if I’m lazy) abandon B:ABB for a moment and just use the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day version, which I found here

I would substitute roasted potato (what’s the difference between baked potato and roasted potato, if you leave it whole?), and also leave out the garlic.  Not that I don’t love garlic, but Hamelman points out (somewhere; I can’t find the page reference anymore) something along the lines that you should work hard to get a great-tasting bread recipe first before you go about sticking things in it that will invariably mask the fine flavour of the bread. 

It’s easy to season up a mediocre bread, but what you want to work on is getting an extraordinary bread that doesn’t need seasoning.

Hamelman also points out, in his sourdough section, that “bad bread should be eaten warm, even hot.  The heat helps to mask the defects.  Good bread [on the other hand, and this is what I want to start making!] does not begin to taste like itself until it has had ample time to cool.  In fact, naturally leavened breads in general taste better a few or even several hours after they have cooled.” (p. 152)

SO… I am now thinking that some of my bread snobbery and refusal to eat hours-old bread (let alone day-old) has been perhaps due to bad bread.  Let’s try turning out some good ones and seeing how they last.

Most of the B:IBB recipes are more “patchke-dik” (Jewish for labour-intensive) than what I’m used to.  I don’t know how many corners I will cut and how many lengths I am prepared to go to for great bread. 

I do have a life outside of bread.  And I doubt any sourdough is powerful enough to raise my family for me.  (get it?  a bread pun!)

But it sure is nice to be back on the Bread Wagon…that’s all I’m saying for now.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Erev Yom Tov, Baking up a storm…

erev baking 001Here’s what I’ve got done so far.  At 2 am, the challahs tend to be wonky and especially these ones which are made from the no-knead brioche dough (too tired to put in a link!).

At the back right is Smores bars (will insert links later when I’m not so exhausted!).  Here it is before baking:

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And right after it came out of the oven, with the marshmallow fluff all puffed up:

cakes 012  Mmm…

And then, Blueberry Lemon-Almond Upside-Down Cake, another dessert recommended at the same site, Couldn’t Be Pareve, where a Conservative rabbi and mama blogs her adventures in pareve baking. 

Her family refers to this as the Ugly Cake, and you can certainly see why.  Here it is right out of the oven:

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You’re supposed to cool it for 1 minute, then tip it out onto a large platter (does anyone actually have one of those?  I used a plate).

So here it is, all upside-down.  It looks like a blackened, terrifying mess.  But Ted and I snuck bites by shaving a bit off the edge before all the blueberry stuff ran down, and frankly, it is subtle and delicious in a really sophisticated way.  Hope it stays yummy for Shabbos/Yom Tov!

cakes 018 cakes 017

Cool Cooking Web Tool

For lazy cooks like me who don't want to be bothered weighing every single ingredient*... this page will convert almost anything from weight to volume and back again.  Naturally, true chefs will turn up their noses at it (measuring flour in cups is sure to be inaccurate - because the volume depends how you scoop, whether you sift, etc - and it drives European cooks crazy when North Americans do it), but, well, in my life, it comes in handy.  Often.

* January 2010 update:  …or who didn’t own a decent scale up until now!!!  I’m sure this site will still come in handy, if only for converting imperial to metric.  If you’re Canadian, by the way, you might not realize that people in the U.S. refuse to call their system “imperial” like the rest of us.  They refer to it as STANDARD measurements.  Hmm… metric seems way more standard, if you ask me.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Lots of challah!

Sukkos 001So I made two batches this week for Sukkos:  one batch of no-knead Master Dough (big bowl on left; I subbed oil for the butter) and one (small bag on right) of my regular no-fail challah, with 1 cup of spelt flour.

The no-knead dough was wet, wet, WET, but behaved well enough once I floured it up.  Meanwhile, my regular dough was SO dry and hard and tight.  Look at the wrinkles in the middle of the coiled challah!

 Sukkos 005 

The no-knead challahs were definitely less attractive.  The moisture makes them kind of loose and sticky-looking:

Sukkos 007 

Here are all 5 lined up ready to go in the fridge to rise overnight (fun, fun, trying to find space the night before Yom Tov).Sukkos 008 

And here they are, all streuseled and baked up!  None of them are my most beautiful challah ever.  Next week, we’re back to braids.

 Sukkos 015

The one at the front right is my regular recipe.  The others are the no-knead.  Not much difference in appearance when all is said and done.

Good Yom Tov, one and all!

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