The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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PMcCool

I wanted to make a bread for a recent gathering of friends.  My preference was for something sweet but not a sticky, gooey kind of sweet.  After paging through a number of books, I came across a recipe in Beth Hensperger's The Bread Bible for a sweet vanilla challah that sounded like it would fit the bill.  The recipe called for just 1/2 cup of sugar in a two-loaf batch of bread, so it wasn't excessively sweet.  The flavor, though, was driven by 1-1/2 tablespoons of vanilla extract in the dough and another teaspoon of vanilla extract in the glaze.  How could it be anything but good?


The dough ingredients include:


1 tablespoon yeast (instant or active dry)


1/2 cup sugar


1 tablespoon salt


6-1/2 to 7 cups of flour


1-3/4 cups hot water (120 F)


4 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten


1/2 cup vegetable oil


1-1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract


The glaze ingredients include:


1 large egg yolk


1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1/2 teaspoon sugar


Process


Combine the yeast, sugar, salt and 2 cups of the flour; mix by hand or by mixer.


Add the hot water, eggs, oil, and vanilla.  Beat hard until smooth.  Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time.  Continue beating until the dough is too stiff to stir.


Turn out on a lightly floured surface and knead until soft and springy and a layer of blisters shows under the skin, about 4 minutes.  (Note: I did not see any blisters forming, but kneaded until the dough was smooth and elastic.)  The dough needs to be slightly firm for free-form loaves.


Place the dough in a greased deep container.  Turn the dough once to coat the top and cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.  (Even with room temperature at a relatively cool 65F in my kitchen, it did not need this much time to double.  I could see this doubling in less than an hour with warmer, summer-time temperatures.)


Grease or parchment-line 1 or 2 baking sheets.  (I went with 2 sheets, not wanting to risk the two loaves growing together while they baked.  It turned out to be a good choice.  Note that Ms. Hensperger also offers the option of using springform pans.)  Gently deflate the dough.  Turn the dough onto a lightly-floured surface.  Divide the dough in 2 equal portions.  Roll each portion out into a smooth, thick strip about 30 inches long, with one end 2-3 inches wider than the other.  (Picture a shorter, thicker billiard cue stick.)  Roll to to lengthen and taper the thinner end.  With the wide end on the work surface, lift the tapered end and wind the rest of the dough around the thick end 2 or 3 times, forming a compact coil.  Pinch the thin end to the body of the coil and tuck it under.  Place the coils, with the swirl pattern facing up, on the baking sheet(s).  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise until nearly doubled in bulk, about 30-40 minutes.  Because of the eggs, this loaf does not need to double completely; it will rise enough in the oven.  (And how!  It sprang up to double or treble its original height.)


Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350F.  To make the vanilla egg glaze, whisk together the egg yolk, vanilla and sugar in a small bowl.  Beat until well blended.  Gently brush the dough surfaces with a thick layer of the glaze.  Place the baking sheet(s) on a rack in the center of the oven and bake 40-45 minutes, or until a deep, golden brown and the loaves sound hollow when tapped with your finger.  Carefully lift the turbans off the baking sheet(s) with a spatula and transfer to cooling racks.  Cool completely before slicing.


The finished bread looks like this:


Sweet vanilla challah


Sweet vanilla challah


Now, any bread smells good when it's baking.  This bread's fragrance while baking is over the top; our whole house was perfumed with vanilla. 


The flavor is also marvelous.  The crumb is fine-textured, smooth and moist.  It's good all by itself, with a dab of butter, with jam or marmalade, and toasted.  It will never last long enough to go stale, but it would make a wonderful base for either French toast or bread pudding.


The results were every bit as good as I had anticipated and a big hit with my friends.


Paul

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PMcCool

We had invited friends for brunch the weekend after New Year's day and I had already decided to make zolablue's cinnamon rolls.  It seemed, though, that something else would be good to have with the quiches that my wife was making; something not quite so sweet as the cinnamon rolls (which were fabulous, by the way).  It occurred to me that a croissant's buttery, flaky lightness would be a perfect accompaniment for the richness of the quiche.  There was one minor problem: I'd never made a croissant in my life.


The first step: search TFL for threads dealing with croissants.  I found two things that proved to be very helpful.  The first was a formula for Bertinet's croissants, posted by dolfs.  The second was a link to SteveB's Breadcetera site, which included some very helpful videos and other instructions for croissants.  Armed with this information, I decided to forge ahead.  If the croissants turned out well, I would serve them to my guests; if they turned out badly, my guests would never hear about them but my wife and I would have some very tasty french toast.


The next step was to assemble all of the ingredients and start building the dough.  I'll spare you all of the process steps; Dolf and Steve have done an excellent job of documenting those, which you can read by clicking on the links, above.  My laminated dough skills, being essentially non-existent, caused a couple of butter breakouts during the turning and rolling steps.  Happily (for me, anyway), the end product didn't seem to have suffered as a result; although M. Bertinet may not have wanted his name attached to them.


I was grateful to have a largish island on which to roll out the final dough before cutting the croissants.  A 3-foot long strip of dough is much longer in reality than it would seem to be in concept.  While I suspect that I may not have rolled the dough as thinly as a professional baker would have, I did get 14 croissants out of it, plus a couple of smaller scraps from the ends (which served well for QA testing).  


Here's a picture of the shaped croissants during their final rise, after shaping:


Shaped croissants


By this point, I could already tell that they would taste wonderful.  All I needed to do was bake them successfully.  Here's how they looked after coming out of the oven:


Baked croissants


I could probably have left them in the oven another couple of minutes for additional browning, but I was very skittish about burning them after having gotten them this far.  (By the way, Dolf, thanks for including the tip on applying the egg wash.)  Turns out they were fully baked and absolutely delicious, as confirmed by our QA samples.  Lots of tender, buttery, flaky goodness.  


So, our guests did get croissants to go with the quiche, although the cinnamon rolls were probably the bigger hit of the party.  


As good as they are, these will probably remain on my "special occasion" baking list.  For one thing, there's almost a tablespoon of butter in every single one of them.  For another, they require significantly more effort for the yield than a similar quantity of dinner rolls.  Still, after a bite of one warm from the oven with a dab of marmalade, I know I'll be making them again.


Paul

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PMcCool

Time to catch up a bit from the Christmas whirl.  Last weekend, I baked Leader's pain au levain again, from his Local Breads.  I keep coming back to this bread, because of it's lovely flavor.  It is only mildly sour and the rye and whole wheat components add to the depth of flavor.  Since temperatures in my kitchen were hovering in the 63-65F range, it also benefitted from a long, slow fermentation.  Here is a picture of the finished loaves:


Leader's pain au levain


The slashing suffered from a lack of mental mise en place.  I'l have to pay better attention to that in future.


Here's a shot of the crumb:


Crumb of pain au levain


The crumb is great for sandwiches and for holding spreads, but a bit fine-grained for this style of bread.  I'm still working to get all of the factors done right in a single loaf.  This one has great flavor.  I thought it had ample hydration, but it could probably have been pushed a bit higher.  And my handling during shaping was a bit ham-fisted.  One of these days . . .


The second bread on the agenda last weekend was Reinhart's New York Deli Rye, from BBA.  No complaints about the bread itself; it is a moist, flavorful (I substituted dill seed for caraway seed), sturdy bread and makes wonderful sandwiches.  The only quibble, which is purely cosmetic, is the blotchiness on the crust caused by the oiled plastic wrap that I draped over the pans to keep the dough from drying during it's final proof, as seen here:


Reinhart's NY deli rye


And, since I was on a sourdough kick and had company coming, I also made the sourdough English muffins from the KAF 200th Anniversary Cookbook.  I never got around to snapping a picture of those.  They turned out very well.  I think I finally got the right combination of hydrations, time to rise, and griddle temperature.  They ballooned up to more than an inch in thickness, without trying to turn into spheres.  There are plenty of nooks and crannies for trapping melting butter or juicy jams.  They are so moist that they require a second pass through the toaster to brown up enough.


Sometimes it is hard to decide which is better: the enjoyment of making bread, or the enjoyment of eating it.

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PMcCool

This weekend's baking included Bernard Claytons Pain Allemande aux Fruits.  It's a marvelously fragrant bread, containing lemon zest, orange juice, anise seed, cinnamon, figs, raisins, apricots, prunes, almonds, hazelnuts, butter and other good things.  I made a double batch, since I tend to make a mess in the process of getting everything prepped.  Might as well have four loaves for my efforts as two, right?  Plus, I can give some for gifts and still have some for myself.  


It is delightful with just a smear of butter, or toasted.  For me, it has the appeal of fruit and spice, without the cloying flavor or overwhelming sweetness of most fruitcakes.


Here's the dough at the end of the bulk rise, just about to make a break for freedom:


Doubled, and then some


The fruit mixture: figs, apricots, raisins and prunes:


Frut mix


 


This shows the dough with the first one-third of the fruit, ready incorporation:


Dough and fruit


Fruit mixed in, dough shaped and panned:


The dough in the pans


Second rise complete and ready for the oven:


Ready for the oven


And the finished bread:


All done!


 


Oh, and I baked off Leader's pain de campagne that was begun last evening:


Leader's pain de campagne


Not a bad day in the kitchen!

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PMcCool

My wife recently picked up a copy of Leader's Local Breads, and I am part way through reading it.  I needed to bake this weekend, so thought that I would try a formula from the book.  Based on what I had available, I opted for the Pain au Levain, using my existing sourdough starter to prepare the levain for the formula.  I also chose to add sunflower seeds to the bread, following one of Mr. Leader's options.

It was enjoyable to work with a mostly-white bread dough again.  Much of my recent baking has been predominantly whole-grain breads (not counting RLB's focaccia that factored out at 113% hydration!), which tend to have somewhat heavier and stickier doughs.  This formula calls for small quantities of both whole wheat and rye flours, but they are fairly low percentages of the total flour content.

Here's the finished bread:

Pain au Levain batards 

And a shot of the crumb:

Pain au Levain crumb 

As you can see, there was plenty of oven-spring.  The dough was a little bit short of being completely proofed.  I may have been able to let it proof a little longer than I did, but I'm happy with the outcome.  The flavor is surprisingly (to me) mild; the wheat flavor comes through cleanly, along with the nutty sweetness of the sunflower seeds.  The last couple of sourdoughs that I have made had a high whole wheat content and a pronounced sourdough tang.  Other conditions were essentially the same, so it appears that the flour has an influence on the degree of sourness.

This is a very enjoyable bread.  I hope that others in the book are equally good.

Paul 

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PMcCool

This weekend's bake, per my wife's request, was a walnut stout bread.  The recipe that I used (note that all measurements are volumes, not weights) can be found here: http://www.kitchenlink.com/mf/2/4133.  We first saw it printed in the Kansas City Star some years ago; the link attributes it to the Houston Chronicle.  It's probably one of those recipes that was reprinted widely, since it is so good.  Oh, and don't miss the Cheddar-Ale spread recipe at the bottom of the page.  It is wonderful with this bread!

There are a couple of insights that I can offer, having made this bread on several occasions.  It is essentially a rye bread, which means that the crumb is very smooth and somewhat dense.  The dough will be sticky as you handle it.  The recipe suggests adding flour during kneading to control the stickiness but I elected to knead with one hand and clean the countertop (and my hand) with a plastic dough scraper.  It helps to keep the finished bread from being too dry.  The recipe merely says "rye flour".  I don't know if it means white rye, medium rye, or whole rye.  In my case, whole rye flour was on hand, so that is what I used and it turned out fine.  The recipe also requires 1 Tablespoon of coriander, and that is not a misprint.  Between the coriander and the anise seed, it is a very fragrant bread.  As for the stout, I've used Guinness on previous occasions with good results.  This time, I used Boulevard Brewery's Dry Stout (local to Kansas City) with equally delicious results.  I think you could get away with using any dark beer or ale, whether stout, porter, bock or dunkel.  The flavor may shift a bit, but it wouldn't upset the overall results.  Obviously, the richer the flavor of the beer or ale, the richer the flavor of the bread.  The walnuts are, to my tastes, essential for the bread.  They contribute both flavor and a crunch that play off the other flavors and textures very nicely. 

The recommended baking time is 35-45 minutes at 375F.  I checked a loaf's temperature at the 40-minute mark and it was only about 180F, so I left it in for another 10 minutes.  If it had been taken out at the recommended time, it would have been gummy.  Since I only make this every two or three years, I haven't really experimented with different temperature/time combinations.

Here is a picture of the finished loaves:

Walnut Stout Bread

Paul

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What follows is a case study of "Its beautiful!  Let's change it!"

When we moved into our present house in August 2007, one of the things that we especially liked about it was the large, open kitchen with lots of cabinet space and room to maneuver.  No more tripping over each other, as in the cramped kitchen of the previous house; no more trying to find a place to set something down that wasn't already occupied by something else.  It was pretty typical of houses that were built in this area in the mid-1990's; lots of honey-oak cabinetry, formica counter tops, ceramic tile backsplashes, etc. 

We have, over the years, been collecting ideas of things we would like to have in our kitchen.  There was the "If money was no object" list and there was the "Get real!" list.  One of the things that we fell in love with a few years ago was soapstone for counter tops.  I don't recall where or how we first became aware of it, but I do remember that after seeing it used (and still usable) in a Shaker village built in the mid-1800s we figured that durability wasn't going to be a problem.  I'll spare you the rationalization / sales pitch as to why we chose it over other options.  Let's just say we like it.  In looking at the somewhat worn Formica counter tops that were in the house, we decided that this might just be the time and place to take the plunge. 

Once the decision about counter tops was made, several other things followed in rapid progression.  For instance, to take out the existing countertops, the existing backsplash had to be removed.  Besides, white ceramic tile wouldn't have complement the new soapstone counters.  To get all of the backsplash out, the existing microwave oven had to be pulled.  Said microwave not only functioned poorly, it's vent fan recirculated cooking odors back into the house instead of venting outdoors.  Oh, and the dinged up, surface-mounted porcelain sink?  That had to go.  While they're messing with the plumbing anyway, let's get a new disposal, too.  To quote the King of Siam: "Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera."

So, by choosing new counter tops, we got:

- new counter tops (natch)

- new backsplash

- new microwave, vented outdoors

- new undermount sink

- new faucet

- new disposal

- new switches and outlets (to coordinate with new backsplash)

- new pulls for the drawers and cabinets

- new under-cabinet lights

Talk about unforeseen consequences!

The steam-injection oven remains on the "If money were no object" list.  We decided that we could live with the existing white refrigerator, even though all of the other appliances are black.

Here is how things looked at the outset:

Before

Another "before" view:

More before

The first thing to go was the backsplash and counter tops.  Not having a place to set things down for a couple of weeks was an adjustment we never quite got used to:

Tear out

The day after the wrecking crew tore out the backsplash and counters, another individual came to take the final measurements and make the templates that the stone fabricator would need to cut the raw slabs into the finished pieces for the counter tops.

A crew came back to install the wiring for the puck lights underneath the upper cabinets while the stone fabricator was doing his thing.  Under-cabinet lighting wasn't something that had been on either list but after seeing how much darker the slate tiles were going to be, compared to the previous white ceramic tiles, we decided that it would be a good thing to have. 

And then came the day that the new counters arrived:

They're here!

The installer in the above picture is finishing a seam between two sections of counter top.  Note that he has already installed the under-mount sink.

The final step for installing the counter tops was the application of a coat of mineral oil.  When soapstone is oiled, it darkens dramatically.  Since the stone isn't porous, I'm not sure exactly why it works.  The closest approximation I can think of is the difference between dry pavement and wet pavement, particularly when driving at night, in the sense that the oil fills in microscopic irregularities on the stone's surface in much the same way that rain fills in the irregularities of the pavement's surface, making it look much darker.  Or maybe I'm the one that's all wet.  Anyway, oiling is not required.  It does nothing for the stone, other than change its appearance.  My wife thinks that she will probably not oil our counters with any frequency, if at all.  She prefers the "dry" look.  Here's a picture that shows part of the stone oiled and part of it dry:

Oiled vs. dry stone

Over the next couple of days, the slate tile backsplash was installed, grouted and sealed.  You can also see two of the puck lights under the upper cabinets, along with the new faucet at the sink and the new pulls on the cabinets and drawers in this shot:

Slate backsplash

And a couple of more shots showing the finished work:

Finished!

Finished!

Additional photos, if you are interested, are located at http://s94.photobucket.com/albums/l111/pemccool/Kitchen/.  The before and after order is scrambled; Photobucket seems to adhere to the LIFO approach for inventorying multiple uploads.  If any of you know how to reshuffle the order of the photos in a Photobucket album, please tell me how.

We had dithered about whether or not we should refinish the cabinets, eventually defaulting to a wait and see approach.  Now that everything is in, we are content to keep them as they are.

We are very satisfied with how things have turned out, even though some of the et ceteras drove the price up higher than my informal initial estimate.  We expect to be using, and liking, this kitchen for a long, long time.

Bottom line?  "It's beautiful!  Don't change a thing!"

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PMcCool

I had occasion to try several new things last weekend: Rose Levy Berenbaum's recipe for "Levy's" Real Jewish Rye Bread, one of my recently acquired bannetons from SFBI, and the Pampered Chef equivalent of a La Cloche (which has been sitting around unused for years).  This also marked the second time that I have made bread on the new soapstone countertops that were recently installed.

The recipe comes from RLB's "The Bread Bible".  The bread contains 3.3 oz of rye flour, vs. 8.5 oz of bread flour, so it is scarcely any more sticky than a wheat dough would be.  And with 2 tablespoons of caraway seeds, rye isn't the dominant flavor.  The bread begins with a yeasted sponge, which is allowed to ferment 1-4 hours.  It eventually bubbles through a flour layer that is placed on top of the sponge:

Fermented sponge 

Once the sponge has fermented, the flour mixture, oil and salt are stirred in.  The dough is then kneaded and left to ferment under an overturned bowl for a 20-minute rest:

Resting dough

After the dough has rested, it is kneaded again and then allowed to rise until it is doubled.  At that point, it is given a letter fold, then returned to the bowl until it doubles again.  After the second rise, the dough is flattened slightly and then shaped into a ball and allowed to rise until it has doubled.  Ms. Levy recommends that the final rise after shaping occur in a covered bowl.  I opted to use a fabric-lined banneton, dusted with rice flour, covering the exposed surface with plastic wrap to keep it from drying.

Ms. Levy suggests baking either on a baking sheet with steam, or in a cloche.  In both cases, she recommends having a baking stone in the oven as it preheats, then setting either the baking sheet or the (also preheated) cloche on the baking stone.  It seemed like overkill, but I followed the instructions as given, using the cloche.  The risen loaf was tipped out onto parchment paper, slashed, then placed in the cloche and covered.  I'll need to practice the technique a bit.  I was a bit gun-shy about burning myself on either the cloche base or its lid, so I wasn't as gentle with placing the loaf as I should have been.  It deflated slightly but recovered most of the loss with oven spring.

Based on the directions, I pulled the cover from the cloche about 10 minutes before the estimated completion of the baking time, expecting that it would finish browning during those last few minutes.  Instead, I saw that the loaf was already well-browned.  So, I stuck a thermometer in it, which quickly registered 210F.  At that point I declared it done and placed it on the rack to cool.  Here's how it looked:

Cooling rye bread

And a shot of the crumb, taken the next morning:

Crumb of Levy's rye

More of the color comes from the malt syrup in the recipe than from the whole rye flour that I used.  The crumb is firm and moist, the crust thin and chewy.  It makes a mean ham and Swiss sandwich. While I like caraway in a rye bread, the amount in this bread is more than I would use for my tastes.  Next time I make it, I will either cut back on the caraway, or substitute fennel or dill, which will be more to my liking. 

Thank you, RLB.  This is good stuff!

Paul

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Well, if I had had my druthers, I would have been in San Diego for the meet.  After all, I was in Ensenada, which is pretty close.  Compared to Kansas City, that is.  But, no, I couldn’t get away from work for a fun Saturday with other TFL-ers.

 

Being in Mexico so much in the past few months has had an upside, though.  That would be tortillas.  Not the stiff, cold, nearly tasteless disks of flour or corn from your supermarket shelves or coolers.  Uh-uh.  No, we’re talking about steaming, burn-your-fingertips-hot, still puffy, straight-off-the-comal fresh tortillas here.  The real deal.

 

I’ve had freshly made tortillas before.  We lived in Houston for five years and there are a bunch of restaurants in that town where you can find fresh tortillas, although they are usually the flour variety.  I’ve even made my own, although I haven’t really mastered these deceptively simple little flat breads. 

 

What I’m finding here in the Baja is something almost magical.  Whether rolled up to eat as a bread, or torn off in chunks to pick up food, or wrapped around meat and other fillings, tortillas make a simple meal complete in very much the same way a crusty bread makes a bowl of soup a dining experience.

 

Growing up in northern Michigan really didn’t give me any useful insights into tortillas.  The only thing that I knew about tortillas was that they came in boxes (think Lawrys or Old El Paso), were hard, brittle, made of a coarse corn meal and used to make tacos. And that they disintegrated at the first bite.  And I wondered: why would anybody get excited about something that lets you take just one bite before it collapses into your lap?  Later on I learned about flour tortillas and things like burritos and enchiladas; then tortillas began to make a bit more sense.

 

But here, as I am sure is the case in other parts of Mexico, tortillas aren’t just an ingredient that you use in one dish of your meal.  Instead, they are an integral part of nearly every meal.  And that is a very good thing.  Especially the maiz (corn) tortillas.  They are just as soft and flexible as their flour brethren and come in a variety of sizes. The flour tortillas don’t hold a candle to the maiz tortillas when it comes to taste, though.

 

For instance, there is a tiny little eatery called Paola’s in the village of La Mision, about half a mile east of Highway 1D along the Baja coast.  There are maybe 4 or 5 tables, each seating a handful of diners.  You walk up to the counter and you can see the stove, which usually has 5 or 6 large kettles and pans on it.  There’s usually beef in one pot, pork in another, chicken in a third and, sometimes, a fourth with lamb, or goat, or tongue or whatever else Paola found at the market that morning.  There will also be a pan of beans, usually, though not always, refried; and another of rice.  You tell the ladies which meat you want (which is usually braised or stewed with chilies, onions and/or other vegetables) and they will ask “Maiz o harina?”  (Corn or flour?)  You reply with your choice of tortilla, then tell them what you want to drink and go sit at your table.  In a few minutes, your plate will arrive, along with a basket of tortillas that are simply too hot to pick up. 

 

Once the tortillas cool just enough that you can snatch one out of the basket without burning yourself, you have an important decision to make.  Should you skip the silverware and use the tortillas to scoop up your food?  Should you start stuffing the meat into your tortilla for an impromptu taco?  Or just alternate bites of the meat and tortilla so that you get to experience the melding of flavors?  In the end, it really doesn’t matter, so long as you savor the flavors that are completed and balanced by the inclusion of the tortillas. 

 

Another favorite dish in these parts is the fish taco.  Ensenada is home to a fishing fleet, so you can get fresh fish every day, ranging from sea bass to tuna to squid to lobsters to shrimp.  Fish tacos are usually made with white-fleshed fish, like locally caught flounder or halibut.  The flesh is cut into strips that are battered and deep fried.  A few pieces go into a soft tortilla, preferably a maiz tortilla.  They are then topped with shredded lettuce or cabbage.  If cabbage, it’s more like a slaw with a faintly sweet-tart creamy dressing.  Other than maybe squeezing a lime over it for some extra zing, all you have to do is roll the taco closed and enjoy every bite.  All of which would be impossible if not for the tortilla.

 

While sitting in a restaurant waiting for my check one evening, I saw a woman walk into a work area and haul out a very large stainless steel bowl.  She proceeded to scoop several pounds of flour into the bowl from a large bin, then added a largish blob of either shortening or lard, some salt and part of a pitcher of water.  She then began to mix it all together with her hands (I wonder if there is a Spanish equivalent for frissage?) until she had a large mass of dough, adding water to get the consistency just right.  After rubbing off the excess dough clinging to her hands, she set about rolling the dough into balls that were sized somewhere between a large egg and a tennis ball.  About that time, my server brought my check, so I didn’t get to see her finish the process.  I’m assuming that, since these were flour tortillas and she was making a large number of them, she probably used a press to flatten the balls into disks which were then put on a griddle to cook.  However, I was walking out the door before she got to that stage.  Still, it was interesting to see that the tortillas I had enjoyed with my meal were freshly made on site.

 

Tortillas are sometimes used to thicken soups, or as garnishes.  And, yes, they can even be bent and fried into a crispy shell for tacos or salads, although I haven’t seen that in this part of Mexico.  For my tastes, though, the tortilla is at its absolute best in its simplest and freshest form.  Then it can work its magic in any way the diner desires.

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PMcCool

Since Labor Day weekend, I have been out of the country on business trips almost constantly.  Most of my time is spent in the Ensenada area, which is about a 90-minute drive south of San Diego.  There was a 1-week trip to Trinidad (also business) but, other than the odd weekend back home every other week, I’ve been here in Ensenada the whole time.  The only exception was last week, when I spent a week of vacation at home.

 

In ordinary circumstances, that would be far more time away from home than I like.  My present circumstance is that we sold one house, bought another and moved in the Thursday before Labor Day.  And then I got the “We need you here next week” call on Friday.  The following Tuesday, I was on my way to Mexico, with only three weekends at home since then.  Not the best set-up for doing all the things that go along with moving into new place.  My wife is very competent and has dealt with the load very effectively and graciously but there is way more than she can deal with alone, particularly if it involves heavy lifting.  Consequently, my weekends at home have been crammed with moving heavy items, painting (LOTS of painting), yard work, etc.  I managed to squeeze one batch of sourdough bread in on one of the weekends, mainly because I needed to refresh the starter anyway.  Other than that, it’s been a long time with virtually no chance to play in our new kitchen.

 

Until last week.  Yes, housework still went on.  We painted two bedrooms and one bathroom upstairs (the kids were coming later in the week and we thought they might want quarters that looked like dwelling places rather than construction sites), hung pictures and mirrors, and, with help from one son-in-law, installed the surround sound system.  But, in and around all of that, there was baking; lots and lots of baking.

 

The first bread was the Pumpkin Cornmeal bread from Beth Hensperger’s Bread for All Seasons.  I was looking for something to start on while building the sourdough starter up, along with wanting to do something seasonal.  After looking through several books, it looked like just the ticket.  It’s a yeasted bread that includes pumpkin puree, cornmeal and some rye flour, too.  I shaped it into boules and baked them on a stone.  The loaves had a warm, golden tone in both the crust and the crumb, thanks to the pumpkin.  Wonderful stuff, as it turns out.  Very good by itself and delightful when paired with homemade applesauce.  It made delicious toast, too.

 

I got a little carried away with building the sourdough starter, winding up with nearly three pounds of it.  After giving it some thought, I realized I could use as much as I needed for whatever I wanted to make and refrigerate the unused portion for subsequent batches so that I wasn’t committed to baking everything in a single day. 

 

My first sourdough choice was the Pain au Levain with Whole Wheat from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book.  I have made it several times before, with varying results.  This time around, I used a 50/50 blend of Wheat Montana’s Bronze Chief and Prairie Gold whole wheat flours, which gave me plenty of whole wheat flavor without the bitterness that sometimes accompanies the red wheat varieties.  I scaled the formula up enough to produce three large batards, adding some additional water to accommodate the “thirstiness” of the Wheat Montana flours.  That’s probably what gave me the best results that I have had with this formula.  The finished loaves had a crumb that was much more open than I usually achieve, which was both chewy and moist.  The good news/bad news aspect about scaling up the formula was that the loaves wouldn’t fit on my rectangular stone, so I wedged a round pizza stone in beside it so that I could bake all of them.  Not the best decision.  I think that I blocked enough air flow inside the oven that the heat sensors couldn’t properly measure the temperature.  As a result, the bottoms of the loaves came out a bit scorched.  The rest of the crust was an incredibly deep reddish-mahogany tone with lots of blisters.  I can live with the scorched bottom crust, since everything else about the bread turned out so well.  However, I won’t be using that approach with the baking stones for future attempts.

 

Next up was the New York Deli Rye from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  My wife loves this stuff and I can’t argue with her.  It’s a wonderful bread, studded with bits of onion and caraway (or fennel seeds, in this case).  Since I had whole-grain rye flour on hand, instead of the white rye that the formula calls for, I used that.  The loaves were probably a bit more dense, as a result, but in a good way.  Since I was using AP flour instead of a high-gluten bread flour, I added a tablespoon of gluten for each loaf, which probably kept them from being bricks.  I chose to bake it in loaf pans for sandwich bread, rather than as hearth bread. 

 

Before going to bed that particular evening, I mixed up some sourdough English muffins from the formula in the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook so that it could ferment overnight.  The following day, instead of rolling out the finished dough and cutting the muffins, I scaled it into 2.5 ounce pieces which I shaped into loose balls and then flattened them into disks.  I’m still not sure about my results with these.  They look great and the flavor is fantastic, but the crumb tends to be smoother than I want; not the ragged, open texture that I’m looking for.  It’s probably two factors; one, a need for additional hydration and two, gentler (or less) handling.  However, nobody complained.  My 5-year old grandson even requested one for an afternoon snack.

 

The last bread that I made with the remaining starter was the Sourdough Oatmeal Maple bread from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book.  Instead of rolled oats, I used some rolled barley flakes that were on hand.  That was a good choice.  The resulting loaves were large, tall boules (enhanced, no doubt, by the addition of some gluten in the dough), crusty on the outside with a moist, chewy crumb.  The barley flakes should have been in a soaker overnight, but I cheated by soaking them in hot water while assembling the rest of the dough.  They added a lovely heft and resistance to the crumb.  The maple syrup showed up as a low-key sweetness, without an overt maple flavor.  Maybe it would have been more noticeable if I had used oats rather than barley.  The bread played very well against a beef roast that we had for dinner one evening.

 

While I would have loved to post some pictures, our home PC was in the shop that week for what turned out to be some dying memory chips.  The uneaten portions of the bread either went home with our daughters or into the freezer, so no pictures and no way to post them.

 

It was a wonderful week on a number of levels, not the least of which was the chance to be at home and baking again.

 

Now I’m back in Mexico and baking vicariously through other TFL members’ posts.

 

Paul

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