The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Floydm's blog

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Floydm

I haven't baked with my starter in a couple of weeks, so Wednesday evening I fed my starter some rye flour and water.  Thursday mid-day I made my dough (1kg bread flour, 20g salt, 730g water, "a bunch" of starter).  It has turned cool again in Vancouver though and my dough was moving slowly, so I bulk retarded it overnight until Friday morning.

Our fridge is really cold so there was very little action overnight.  I removed the dough from the fridge Friday morning and stretched and folded every couple of hours so the dough would warm evenly.  By late-afternoon the bulk dough was starting to move and getting close to double in size, so I shaped the dough into boules.  I was hoping to bake it later that evening, but it was moving slow enough that I decided to cover it and refrigerate it overnight again.

Saturday morning I removed the loaves from the fridge around 7am.  Again, very little action overnight and even a bit of ice on the outside of one of the loaves.  By 11 or so they looked ready to bake, so I tossed them in the oven, covering them with an inverted aluminum pan for the first 10 minutes or so.

As you can see, I accidentally squished the edge of one of the loaves with the aluminum pan, but the breads came our really good, really sour, as one would expect from such long, slow fermentation.  Lots of blisters, too, which I like.  They went really well with cheese, wine, and pasta e fagioli.

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Floydm

Things are finally starting to settle down a bit.  I baked today the first time since kicking off the site move, another batch of the Hokkaido Milk Bread with Tangzhong.

Man is it good and easy to make.  The only difficulty is it is so sticky that I spend half the mixing time scraping the dough off the hook and back into the bowl.  This is the first bread in a long time that has me seriously contemplating a mixer upgrade at some point. 

I'm continuing to fix things and chip away at the wishlist, as well as just generally be active on the site and "eat my own dogfood."  Now that we're geting settled into this new environment, it is much easier for me to make changes. Well... not all changes, but many things that I didn't have easy access to I do now.  So things should keep getting better.

FYI for tracker junkies: you may have seen (or will see soon) a bunch of updates to old content.  That was me. First I was editing them by just switching input format because I was trying to fix the issue with some posts blanking out, which I have now fixed.  I'm now editing some older posts to attach one of the images already in the post to the new "Image" field at the top.  Having that image lets me do all kinds of cool tricks like auto-generate thumbnail images for posts in search results or in list, which I'll start to do once more posts have images attached like that.  I am not editing folks's content in any way.

-Floyd

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Floydm

I make another batch of the Hokkaido Milk Bread with Tangzhong this weekend, this time adding 2 cups of soaked sultana raisins.  

That was two cups of raisins before soaking. After soaking it was more like 3 or 3 1/2 cups, which was a lot of raisins. I was afraid it was going to be too much and really weigh the loaves down, but they still rose quite nicely.

As you can see, I split the dough into smaller pieces this time and divided it among three pans.

It wasn't as fluffy and cloud-like as the first batch, which isn't surprising given the additional weight I added, but it was still an extremely soft, pillowy dough.  We've all be munching it straight and it made wonderful toast when sliced this morning.

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Floydm

As I've mentioned previously, I've been working for the past few months to upgrade TFL to a new version of the content management system it runs on, Drupal.  I'm also redesigning the interface a bit, mainly so it works better on tablets and phones.  

The new version of the site is close, really close, to being ready. The gap in projects I carved out for my recent vacation is quickly closing too, so I'd like to make the switch to the new version of the site soon and work out the remaining kinks once we're on the new system. It'd be a shame for this opportunity to make the switch pass and the upgrade not happen for another 6-8 months.

The new version of the site can now be found at: http://upgrade.thefreshloaf.com

This is a new server with more horsepower and better caching than the existing system.  I'll crank it up even higher before the new site goes live, so we should have fewer performance problems and less lag than we do now.

As before, if you want to log in and tinker around with test version of the new site, be my guest.  I'll be refreshing the database there again before the new site goes live for real, so anything you post there today will be disappear soon.  

Some of the site features like the email features are disabled because I don't want to accidentally spam folks while I'm working on the new site.  But it should be pretty much functional.

For the switch over, I'm thinking... next week?  Maybe Tuesday?  I'm going to continue tuning things the next few days, but the sooner we make the move the better, IMO.   

Of course I'll be backing everything up before the move so should anything go awry we can roll back to where we are before the switch, but I hope and expect it'll be a big step forward, that it'll work better for all of us and be easier for new folks to learn how to use, than the current site.   

Please give a shout, folks, share your feedback on the new site and let me know if you see any reason I shouldn't try to move this forward next week.  Otherwise, I'll try to do the flip and then make myself as available as I can to help folks learn the ins and outs of the new system or fix any issues that we didn't discover until after the switch.  

If I can do the switch on Tuesday, my hope would be that by the end of the week most (if not all) of the functionality would be restored and everyone could blog and chat as normal.  Fingers crossed, knock on wood, and all that. :)  

Cheers,

-Floyd

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Floydm

Every now and then you learn a new technique in the kitchen that really knocks your socks off.  Tangzhong is one of them.

Tangzhong

Tangzhong is the technique of heating a portion of the flour and liquid in your recipe to approximately 65C to make a paste (roux).  At this temperature the flour undergoes a change (gelatinizes?).  Adding this roux to your final dough makes a huge difference in the softness and fluffiness of your final dough.

It is really easy to do a tangzhong.  Take 1 cup of liquid (milk or water) to 1/3 cup flour, or a 5 to 1 liquid to solid ratio (so 250g liquid to 50g flour) and mix it together in a pan.  Heat the pan while stirring constantly.  Initially it will remain a liquid, but as you approach 65C it will undergo a change and thicken to an almost pudding like consistency.  

Once it is evenly thickened, remove from heat and allow to cool down some before making your final dough.  

Reportedly you can cover it and keep it in the fridge for a few days before using it, but I baked with it immediately.

Hokkaido Milk Bread

We have some great Asian bakeries in Vancouver and they all make some version of a Milk Bread.  Soft, slightly sweet, often baked in pullman pans so that the slices are perfectly square, sometimes containing raisins or a swirl of red beans or cream cheese, milk bread is the ultimate comfort food. It has a tenderness I've never reproduced at home until now.  I always figured it was a ton of oil or some other artificial conditioner that gave it that consistency, but now I think Tangzhong and heavy kneading were the secret. 

My recipe is a hybrid of a bunch of different recipes I found online and credit below.  What I offer here is a good place to start but certainly not an authoritative version or one I'd suggest is the best.  Still, it was awfully good.

 

Tangzhong

 

1/3 C all purpose flour

1 C liquids (I used 2/3 C water and 1/3 C milk)

Final Dough

800g (around 5 C) all purpose flour

1/2 C sugar

50g (1/2 C) milk powder

1/2 C half and half

3/4 C milk

2 eggs

4 T butter

4 t instant yeast

1 t salt

all of the tangzhong

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl or standmixer and mix the heck out of it, 10 or 15 minutes, until the dough is silky and smooth.  I didn't initially add enough liquid so my dough was quite dry, but by adding more to the bowl and using wet hands I was able to work more milk and water into the dough.  

Once you've kneaded the dough well, cover the bowl and let the dough rise until doubled in size, roughly an hour.

Divide the dough into smaller portions.  I divided it into 8 ~210g pieces, which I baked 4 to a pan in 2 pans.  As you can see, that was a bit much for the pans I have!  Next time I think I'll divide the dough into 12 pieces and bake it in the 3 pans. 

Cover the pans loosely and allow to rise for half an hour, then glaze with milk or an egg wash.

Heat the oven to 350F while letting the loaves rise another 15-30 minutes.  

Baking the loaves at 350F for approximately 40 minutes.  If they are browning too much, you can cover them loosely with foil.

Look at that crumb!  Absolutely the softest, silkiest loaves I've ever made.

Further reading/discussion about Hokkaido Milk Bread and Tang Zhong:

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Floydm

This is my last post about my trip before returning to posts about managing the site and baking, I promise! -Floyd

As far as I can recall, we ate Polish food exclusive on this trip.  Not out of necessity, mind you: at least in cities like Warszawa and Kraków you can dine on sushi, burgers, Italian food, phó, pretty much anything you like now. Chains like Starbucks, McDonalds, Hard Rock Cafe, and KFC are about as common as in the rest of Europe.  We didn’t take this trip to eat American or Italian or Japanese though, we went to eat Polish.

Polish food is very good.  My wife’s comment was “When I came here when I was twenty, it was the night life and the drinking that were the big temptations.  This time, it is the food!”  I agree and could go on and on about the cuisine there, though I’m going to limit myself to this one (admittedly fairly long) post, first discussing the meals and then some particular foods of interest.

The spices in Polish cuisine are mild. Very mild: think dill and marjoram, often with cream. 

One of the strongest flavours?  Smoke.

Curing, pickling, and fermenting meats and vegetables was an important way of preserving food in the days before reliable refrigeration and still plays an important part in many of the traditional dishes.

And, yes, to get the question out of the way, the kełbasa (sausage) really is all that.

The first meal of the day is śniadania.  

A traditional spread at śniadania is likely to include bułki or chleb (rolls or bread), szinka (ham) and wędliny (cold cuts), cottage or farmers cheeses - sometimes with radishes and chives mixed in or to be eaten with it on bread, sliced pomidory and ogórki (tomatos and cucumbers), masło (butter) and ser (cheese - usually a white or yellow one - the familiar orange cheddar that Americans usually eat is still a rare sight there). Herbata (tea) is drunk more often than coffee, with lemon and honey or sugar rather than milk.  Soft boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, or omelet with chopped ham or kełbasa are also not uncommon. Another common dish is parówki (a kind of hot dog - usually pork or chicken), sometimes served with cheese.

The largest meal of the day, obiad, is eaten in the early afternoon.  At my grandmother-in-law’s house, obiad was usually a three course affair.  First soup such as barszcz (based on beets), zurek (a rye sourdough soup pictured below that I’ve mentioned previously and which I’m trying again to make at home), zupa pomidorowy (tomato soup), or a chicken broth.  

The main dish was usually a meat + starch + vegetables affair, something like some sort of schab (pork roast) or kotlety (cutlets) with ziemniaki (potatoes) or kluski (either noodles or dumplings depending on the type) or ryż (rice), and a chopped salad or some type of cooked/fermented mushrooms or cabbage.

 Another common meal is to have one of many kinds of pierogi. Pierogi come stuffed with meat, potatoes, mushrooms, cheese, cabbage, or even fruits and berries.

And no meal was complete without dessert, typically some sort of fruit in gelatin, a slice of cake, and more herbata.

To wrap it all up, almost every obiad was closed with some sort of sweet liqueur or flavoured vodka, often times homemade.

After that we’d often try to go to go back out and do something, but usually the most I could manage was to read a book or watch TV for a bit and try not to fall asleep.  Light eating it is not!

The evening meal, kolacja, is typically smaller and happens later in the evening than in North America.  More bread and cold cuts, for example, or some slices of whatever roast was made for obiad.  Just enough to tide you over until morning.

Not everyone eats like this, of course.  I’m sure busy folks who work in offices eat desk lunches the way many of the rest of us do.  When we asked a waiter who we were chatting with what he had for śniadania, he told us “today, cereal.” 

A few specific items worth mentioning:

Pączki

As I blogged about earlier, one of the things I most anticipated eating on this trip were pączki, the jelly doughnut-like treats found in Polish bakeries around Easter.

 I tried four or five different bakery’s versions of them.  The worst were simply plain, not unlike grocery store jelly doughnuts.  The best, either those from A. Blikle Bakery in Warszawa or one of the bakeries I tried near the rynek in Kraków, were outstanding: sweet but not too sweet, soft, rich, and distinctly floral from the rose petal jam filling.  They are definitely something you should try if you have an opportunity to.    

Ciasto i sernik

Polish cakes and pastries are excellent.  Napoleonki (aka mille feuille) and Wuzetki (usually marked "W-Z") are two of the best known, and there are innumerable delicous varieties of cheesecake (sernik) to be tasted. If you have an opportunity to visit, be sure to stop when you see a cukiernia, which is like a Polish pâtisserie.  You won’t regret it!

Naleśniki

Naleśniki are the Polish equivalent of crêpes.  Like crêpes you can order them for any meal and will find them served sweet or savory, containing sweet white cheese, berries, ham, or mushrooms.  They are very good.  I'm already trying my hand at making them at home, using sweetened ricotta cheese to try to recreate the white cheese that the fruit ones are usually stuffed with.

Chleb

The bread (chleb) we had in Poland was consistently fresh and consistently good, similar to the breads I’ve had in other Northern and Eastern European countries.

The white rolls (bułki) we had for śnadanie were light and crackly, and the darker breads heavier and excellent with things like pasztet, a baked Polish pâté.  

I didn’t come home with any particular loaves that I felt like I had to reproduce, more just a general sense that I should branch out and try a few more formulas with nuts, grains, or more spelt and rye in them.  I don’t think I’ll regret it!

Wódka

No profile of Polish food and drink would be complete without mentioning wódka (vodka).  We actually didn’t have any straight wódka on this trip or witness any heavy drinking, though we did notice a number of 24 hour liquor stores. Rather we had many toasts and after-dinner cordials, some homemade such as a red current and a nut one, and others purchased such as Soplica flavoured with hazelnut or cherries, Krupnik flavoured with honey and which I had with hot water and lemon, or my wife’s favourite “old lady vodka” Avocaat, which I gather is actually of Dutch origin but which is popular with ladies of a certain age in Poland as well.  Kogel mogel is another name for a thick, sweet egg cordial (which can be made with or without the liquor) like this too.  

A couple of regional foods worth noting.

Obwarzanki Krakowskie

Obwarzanki Krakowskie are a close relative of, some say precursor of, the bagel.  Sold by street vendors all over Kraków, they are reputed to go back nearly 700 years.   Priced at 1.5 złoty (about 50 cents) a piece, they are a great snack to be able to grab when you are on the go.

Oscypki

During our stay in Kraków there was an Easter market happening in the main square.  We tried a bunch of regional sausages and breads there, but by far our favourite snack were the grilled oscypki, a smoked sheep’s milk cheese made in the Tatra mountains, served hot with lingonberry jam. The oscypki are a regional specialty found year-round in Zakopane - a hard cheese with a salty flavor something like a cross between gouda and mozzarella, only smokier. They are usually pressed into lovely decorated moulds giving them a distinctive appearance though we also had them in strings which are sometimes braided or even pressed into animal shapes. The grilled version appears to be a fairly new invention which was particularly tasty given the cold weather we were experiencing.

Zapiekanki

Zapiekanki are like Polish French bread pizzas and are a very common late night street (drinking) food.  Our favorite and the most popular kind is topped with mushrooms, cheese, and ketchup, and sometimes with chopped leeks and chives. There are other varieties to be found also, such as the “Hawaiian” ham and cheese and pineapple, or salami, or the Greek with olives and feta, and other versions that include red bell peppers, sausage, yellow cheese, and pickles.

Bar Mleczny

Bar Mleczny are milk bars that spread around Poland back in the Communist era.  Subsidized by the government, Bar Mleczny were inexpensive cafeteria that serve Polish standards like barszcz and pierogi at extraordinarily low price.  Originally created to distribute excess milk products, they expanded to include standard regional dishes and have a reputation for being one of the better places outside of local “homes” to find traditional dumplings and pancake style dishes.

I gather Bar Mleczny can be hit-or-miss, with some being downright nasty and the service being notoriously bad, but the one we ate in a bunch of times was very good and the staff, while perhaps not friendly by Western “Hi, I’m Tammy and I’ll be your server this evening” standards, was courteous and friendly enough.  One day they even made a special batch of the kluski śląskie my wife had been asking about, which was pretty nice of them.

Privately I harbour the dream of someday opening a restaurant called Bar Mleczny here. It probably wouldn't last long without the subsidies and what with people's expectation of customer service, but... man, are they good.

I could go on and on but I'll spare you.  But one final thing worth knowing: Smacznego!  That is the Polish equivalent of “Bon appetit.”

Smacznego!

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Floydm

This is off topic, I recognize, but this was only the second time in eight years I stepped away from TFL for more than a day or two, so I hope you'll allow me to indulge in a couple of off topic posts!  Hopefully they'll be a of interest to some of you.  -Floyd

It wasn’t until we arrived that I realized how long it had been since we last visited Poland.  Seventeen years.  

We didn’t plan on staying away that long, things just happened: on our next trip to Europe we visited family members in France and Germany, then came pregnancy, babies, toddlers.  Road trips and shorter visits to grandma and grandpa’s seemed to make more sense than trans-Atlantic travel. More recently, our travel have been focused around migrating to Canada.  Next thing you know, seventeen years have passed. A generation, basically.

The last time we were in Poland was less than ten years after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Coke and jeans and Metallica, basically all things Western, were still a little edgy and cool.  English was rare.  The shortages and queues of the Communist years were gone and young men with cell phones in suits getting into black Mercedes at the airport signified the arrival of some kind of capitalism, but there was an uncertainty about the transition to a market economy. Frequent small crime like cars being stolen and pockets being picked, rumours of ex-KGB agents driving rogue cabs that would kidnap and blackmail Westerners, and fresh memories of hyper-inflation added to the insecurity. My impression at the end of that trip was of a culturally rich and spiritually strong country but one that had suffered immensely through centuries of oppression, horrific violence, and, more recently, exploitation, under-investment, and neglect. It was difficult to reconcile the heroic Poland of tradition and legend with the run down country before my eyes. It was hard to imagine Poland catching up with Western Europe any time soon.

All that has changed.    

The first change that caught my eye this time after getting off the plane into the glassy new terminal at Warsaw’s Chopin Airport was that all the signage and the PA announcements were now in Polish and English.  

I’ve read about how English has become the lingua franca of international tourism and business but didn’t particularly experience it in my last trip abroad, which was to France.  But in Poland we heard Poles, Danes, Norwegians, Spaniards, Japanese, Scots, Irish, and Chinese -- both Cantonese and Mandarin speakers -- all communicating with each other in English.  Most everyone in hotels, restaurants, and shops spoke good English and didn’t seem put out doing so.  I tried my best to use my limited Polish, but usually before I could the person I was speaking with would have flipped to English.  This was before they knew for certain that I was American or Canadian: English has simply become the language that Poles expect non-Poles to communicate with.

The next noticeable change were all of the new building and cranes in the skyline.

 The Warsaw skyline is full of cranes, almost as many as in Vancouver.  And new buildings, evidence of the 15 straight years of economic growth.

I won’t go into all the details of our trip, but we spent the next two and half weeks with my wife’s family and saw some amazing sites, travelling from Warszawa, to Kraków, down to the Tatra Mountain village Zakopane and back again.  

I'd never been in Europe this time of year. As you can see, it was cold but beautiful.

In terms of travelling, the trains were about the same as I remember them -- comfortable and quick, but not yet high speed the way they often are in Western Europe now.  Supposedly they are still upgrading the tracks and in a few years they'll have high speed rail.

Everywhere else we saw signs of economic development and investment in infrastructure.  The train stations themselves, for example, were much improved.  The major roads were as good as any in Europe.  Museums, parks, and historic buildings had many signs of renovation and frequently were marked with information about the grants the EU has been making to Poland to help it upgrade its infrastructure and achieve parity with the rest of Europe. 

Internet in Poland was reliable and easy to find too, as was cell phone coverage.  A ten minute stop in the train station and we had SIM cards so we could text family members while travelling.  Overall, travelling in Poland was much easier than I remember it being and no harder than travelling in any other foreign country.

I love this: the former dead zone between the Kraków train station and old town, the area which one used to scurry through quickly to avoid the beggars and pickpockets and which we'd warned our kids about, has been replaced with a four story shopping mall.

New malls were everywhere, actually.  The nearest one to my wife’s grandmother’s flat in Warszawa is less than half a mile from an old style flea market, which still exists but I expect whose days are numbered.

All in all, Poland was much easier to travel in that I remembered it being.  The country felt optimistic and welcoming, like it was open for business and that the generation that is coming of age might be the first in centuries that has the opportunity to live up to its potential on home soil.  We are already trying to figure out when we can go back and have a long list of other places we’d like to visit: Wrocław, Gdańsk, Toruń, Bydgoszcz, Lublin, Posnań, and Malbork, just to name a few.   

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Floydm

Hey TFLers!  

I'm still getting over the jet lag, but I'm back from Poland.  As all of you in the UK know, March was unusually cold over there this year, so we saw a lot more snow and a lot fewer flowers than we expected. Still, we had a great trip.  

More to come! I'm thinking one (short) post in the next couple of days about travelling in Poland, another focused on the food there.  After that, I'm hoping to pick up the site migration/upgrade before my workload gets too heavy and maybe get us switched over by mid-month.  That may be too optimistic... we'll see.

Also, I thought I'd share a picture my first loaves since returning.  I just pulled these out of the oven:

These were using my sourdough starter, which rose like nuts! It was like an eager puppy that hasn't been played with for a couple of weeks. I didn't expect to be able to bake until this evening, but here there are.

What I saw of everyone's Easter baking looked great, BTW.    

Also, I need to update the homepage features.  Any recent posts folks want to highlight?  I'm trying to catch up on everything, but I've missed quite a bit, so let me know if there have been any particularly juicy ones.

Cheers,

-Floyd

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Floydm

I hope you'll forgive me for making an off topic post, but my last post didn't do justice to how pretty it is Poland right now.  I wanted to do a quick post to share pictures of a few of the sites here.  

Warszawa:

There are oodles more in my Flickr account (here and here). I'll make more posts about the food here when I get home.  So much to see and do though, so little time! 

-Floyd

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Floydm

We've been in Warszawa since Thursday.

It has been cold, but it is actually quite beautiful right now.

I've not been here in 15 years. The change is incredible. You can still find funky little flea markets, run down train stations, and ugly Communist-era buildings, but those are quickly being replaced by new shopping centres, shiny glass office towers, and brand new new trams and metros. Business and growth, and with them money and English, are everywhere here now.  It is incredible.

 We've mostly been visiting family so far, so I haven't had much of a chance to go "bakery hopping" or do much sightseeing yet.  We've eaten some wonderful breads with pasztet and ozorek and zurek though, many of the breads quite dense and dark, containing grains and fruits and nuts (I'll have time to figure out what all they were later).  And I've finally tried pączki.

These pączki were from A.Blikle, one of the most famous bakeries in Warszawa.  They claim it is where Charles De Gaulle used to get his pastries during his time here.  

The Blikle pączki were amazing, soft, just slightly sweet, and flavoured with rose petal jam.  I always figured pączki were "kinda like jelly doughnuts," and I guess they are but that comparison is like claiming that a French baguette with brie is kinda like American cheese on white bread.  Or saying that what you get at Olive Garden is Italian food.  The same general make up, yes, but really on entirely different level when it comes to craftsmanship.  

I don't know if pączki are usually this good or if it is just this bakery, but I will definitely be trying more while we are here!

-Floyd

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