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Shiao-Ping's blog

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Making breads must be a disease like any other addiction.  You don't want to stop once you get going.  


We just planted a baby avocado tree in our backyard.  A big storm last November uprooted one of our jacaranda trees and there was a spot available.  It will be years before our avocado bears fruit if it survives, but I am getting ahead of my game and practising my skill.  

Hass avocado is our favorite variety of avocado here in Australia.  Apparently in the U.S. it accounts for more than 80% of the avocado crop, including 95% of the California crop.  So, plenty is available.

I once made an avocado moose with orange cream and the kids loved it.  I haven't tried avocado in breads.  The tricky part would be how to let the sourdough shine - would the oil in avocado interfere with the sourdough culture? and, how to preserve the vibrant green color?  I know I will need the help of a little bit of instant yeast.  As well, I am pairing orange with avocado as avocado on its own may be a bit bland.  There may be one too many flavors but this is just my first try.



 250 g starter (refreshed last night at 75% hydration)

 485 g King Arthur Flour Sir Lancelot white bread flour

100 g water

100 g orange juice (about 1  1/2 navel oranges)

10 g very fine orange zest (about 1  1/2 navel oranges)

20 g honey

1.5 g instant yeast (1/2 tsp)


the avocado mixture

150 g roughly mashed avocado (about 1  1/2 medium size avocado)

10 g lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)

11 g salt


I was aiming for a final dough hydration of around 63.5% and I figured the oil/liquid in avocado is anywhere from 40 - 50% its weight. 



              orange zest                                                                       mixing with avocado


I first mixed the starter, flour, orange and honey (for no more than 30 seconds), and while the sticky mess was being infused in orange flavors in resting, I prepared the ingredients for my avo mixture.  I chose the avocado slightly under ripe as I find if avo is too ripe it tends to oxidise too quickly once it's open.  I left it to the last minute to cut open my avo, mashed it with lemon juice and salt - the mixture is great to eat as is - then, chucked it right into my bread machine and turned it on at low speed.  I had to help the machine as the avo was swept aside and not being mixed in.


The rest of the procedure is pretty standard.  Today the weather was warmer than yesterday (around 21C); the first fermentation took 4 hours.  I divided the dough into two pieces and shaped.  Proofing was another 1 1/2 hours.  And here is today's bake:


The boule



The...(what do you call this shape?)



                                         The bread basket


The crumb was a little bit on the dense side, but the aroma!... the orange fragrance really comes through the crumb!  The avocado was also there. The crumb color was a pale olive green (somehow the crumb photo below does not show the color accurately but the open sandwich picture further down is more true).  We sliced the bread after 30 minutes from the oven (couldn't wait any longer), the first thing that hit us was orange, then a slight hint of avocado.  The interest thing was, after the bread rested for another hour and a half, the sourdough taste comes alive.   It was only then that all flavors and sourdough have come together nicely. 


The crumb


There is definitely room for improvement on the crumb.  I am sure Sir Lancelot flour was not the right choice of flour as it is a high protein, hard wheat flour.  I used it because I've only just received it from America and wanted to try it out.  For a more open crumb I should have used a lower protein and more balanced flour.   Nontheless, for the moment, I am happy to have it on its own or in a sandwich...


The open sandwich


The forefathers in 18th century Paris making sourdough breads in their little dark dungeons in the wee hours of the morning, had they had access to ample fresh avocado supply, and fresh oranges supply, would they not have tried the combination?

I've got to finish reading S L Kaplan's book before I get any older.                 




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You can see it a mile away, right?    

This time I am trying it with fresh shallots.  The result is refreshingly different; I felt I was back to my childhood when my mother made us swirl shallots pancakes in winter time.  The other version she used to make with shallots were steam buns - you cannot get anything more Northern Chinese than that!  The interesting thing about food is that the same ingredient in different parts of the world is prepared differently and cooked differently.  Chinese would steam their dough, whereas Europeans bake it; Chinese have their noodles with soy sauce whereas Italians have it with tomato sauce; and so on and so forth.     

With this bread, essentially my ingredients are the same as my mother's; where we differ is in the procedure - she steams but I bake; where she uses the instant yeast, I use sourdough culture.    

My formula:  

250g sourdough starter prepared last night @75% hydration  


This morning  

all of the starter

297g strong white flour @13.6% protein

167 g water*

a small pinch of vitamin C  


shallots mixture:

150 g chopped fresh shallots* (about 3/4 cm pieces)

19 g sesame oil

8 g salt  

*The tricky part here is to determine the moisture that will come out of the fresh shallots.  My past experience is that at least 35 to 40% of its weight is liquid.  I aimed to have a final dough hydration of around 79%.  For the sake of calculating how much water I would need, I used 38% of the shallots weight as the hydration coming out of them.  To be sure, I held back some water for adding later until I felt my target hydration was reached.  

Before I started the dough process, I prepared my shallots mixture by adding salt and sesame oil to the chopped shallots.  The salt in the shallots helped draw the liquid out of the green (the liquid is like an intense shallot "juice").   I then mixed the starter, flour and water; autolysed for 20 min, then put the shallots mixture in and kneaded for 3 min at low speed and 3 more min at medium speed until all were combined.    It is important to try to resist the temptation of adding more water as the dough will further hydrate while it rests because of the shallots.  It will not feel hydrated enough when mixing stops.   

The rest is standard.  



It was very cool today; it seemed to have taken forever for my starter to work - 5 hours bulk fermentation and 3 1/2 hours proofing. 



Here are my first ever ciabatta:  

Chinese Sourdough Ciabatta with Shallots  

The crumb  

This sourdough is delightful to taste (to a Chinese, that is).  The sourdough starter has made it exceptionally moist - it feels heavy in your hand and yet it is so light to the taste.  I think the flavor is beautiful (a Chinese would not complain about that).  It is definitely much healthier than the last one I made.  The vitamin C in shallots and vitamin E in sesame oil - how better can it get!

I am indebted to my mother.  Many things I have learnt from her unknowingly when I was a kid are finally making an impression.  


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Yes, made with sesame oil, shallots and shallot onions.   


I ask for indulgence to call this Chinese Sourdough.  Sesame oil to Chinese is like olive oil to Italians; it can work wonders if you know how. For instance, when you made Rustic Walnut Bread, if you drop a couple of teaspoonfuls of sesame oil to the dough you are mixing, you will get a more intense nutty flavor.  It has a delightfully surprising effect on the aroma of your bread.  Sesame oil is like a strong version of walnut oil, very compatible, both being extremely good for you.    

When I was growing up as a kid, we always had sesame oil in the house: a few drops in the noodles with soy sauce; a few drops in the stock pot for stews; a few drops in the soy sauce and vinegar mixture as a dipping sauce for dumplings (Chinese "dumpling" are like the Italian ravioli's); and so on.  In the traditional markets that we used to go to, the fruit and vege owners would always give us a bunch of shallots for free.  As far as I know, Chinese cook everything with a little bit of shallots and garlic.   

I was over-joyed the other day when I found a jar of sesame oil-fried shallots and shallot onions in the Taiwanese grocery store in Brisbane.  The small shallot onions, about an inch in diameter or even smaller, are often deep-fried in Southeast Asia to add to any dishes for extra flavor.   I had just gotten my starter out of the fridge last night (I needed to make my daily bread today) when I saw the jar sitting in the pantry....  Hmmmm.... sesame oil-fried shallots.... and daily bread?   YES, why not?  


So, here is my formula:  

250 g sourdough starter @75% hydration prepared last night, as well as

50 g linseed (ie, flax seeds) soaked in 60 g water  

For the dough this morning:

All of the above and

40 g organic stoneground wholemeal flour

40 g rye meal flour

20 g Phyto Soy L.S.A. mix (linseed, sunflower, & almonds)

500 g organic unbleashed white flour

400 g water

80 g sesame oil-fried shallots & shallots onions (with the oil drained off)

10 g organic honey

13 g Celtic sea salt

a small pinch of Vitamin C  


And here are the bread and the rolls:

Chinese Sourdough with Sesame Oil & Shallots


                                                                                     close-up of the crust


                               The Crumb  

I will be very happy serving this bread at my dinner party.  The aroma when it came out of the oven is something I've never had before.  The flavor is beautifully enrished by the sesame oil shallots mixture.  The small amounts of wholemeal, rye and L.S.A mix all add to the complexity.  There is an overall harmoney to my taste.  

A nice day ended.  



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I am a sucker for vivid colors.  Last year when I was in Japan on my self-guided pastry eating tour, I discovered a brioche bread with  bright red candy almonds at Susumu Koyama's gorgeous pastry shop in Santien, two hours southwest of Kyoto.  It's hard to believe EVERY morning people from all over the country queue up in front of Patissier es Koyama in this small city, waiting for it to open its door, much like that in front of Pierre Herme's patissier in Paris.  At the time I did not know these little red cruchy candies are "pink pralines" (or "pralines roses" in French originating from Lyon) which are made of almonds and sugar.   

Yesterday I was sitting on my balcony reading when I saw this picture in "Eric Kayser's New French Recipes":  

Brioche with Pink Pralines (page 117 of "Eric Kayser's New French Recipes")

It brings back memories. The color is so beautiful it makes me want to make it, but I have no pink pralines so I have to improvise.  Before I could think of what to do, I thought I'd just first refresh my starter.  Kayser's recipe uses commercial yeast but what's the point of following it - that may just be too easy.    I thought of making my own pink pralines but that would mean I'll have to use red food coloring, which I am reluctant to do.  In the end I settled with a punnet of fresh raspberries for the coloring effect.  

Towards yesterday evening when my starter almost tripped, I mixed the bioche dough.  I did not know how my starter would perform with all the butter and eggs in the dough but I just wanted to try.  I don't have a brioche tin so I used what I have.  Years of making souffle tells me that I need to line the sides of the tin with double parchment paper just in case it expands out of it.  I left it at room temperature for a couple of hours then put it into the fridge for retarding overnight.  This morning I took it out of the fridge and it had barely increased in volume.  I let it stand in my balcony to proof for 4 hours.  This is what it looked like when it doubled in volume, half way through proofing :  


            sourdough brioche dough 

 I turned on my oven to 200C.  Then, when it rose a further 50% in volume, I prepared my egg wash as below:  


                                                                               egg wash  

I brushed it on the top of the dough, placed it in the oven, and immediately lowered the temp to 170C.  There was a good oven spring; the dough expanded a further 50% within the first 4 - 5 mins of baking.  It baked for 35 mins in total and this is the result:  

Sourdough Brioche with Raspberries  


                                                        The crumb

I can't say I am happy with the outcome.  The flavor is good; the curmb is moist but it is not open enough.  The mouth feel is not light enough as a result.  Perhaps my choice of tin does not allow the dough to expand as easily as a proper brioche tin (which opens out very widely).   Well, I shall see to it next time.   

With a slice of this plus cream and homemade raspberry jam, I toast to Monsieur Eric Kayser with my Oolong tea on my sunny balcony!  


                           Winter morning on my balcony


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There is a bakery in my neighbourhood called Baker's Delight which is a chain all around Brisbane.  They have a bread with a surface that looks like mottled skin of a tiger and it's called Tiger's Bread!  It looks most unusual and every time I walked past that bakery I wondered how it got that spotted skin on top.   

A week ago I received my "Special and Decorative Breads" by Alain Couet and Eric Kayser, which apparently is a text book for bread chefs in France.  I was going over the pages.  I don't read their recipes, I just love looking at the photos.  And, wouldn't you know? - there it is, Mottled Bread, on page 34, which is also called Pain Marin Tigre!   This bread originates from Holland and Northern Germany.  The mottled surface is due to an easy technique where a semi-liquid dough is brushed on the top of the loaves right after the dough is shaped for proofing.  This semi-liquid dough is similar in consistency to a sponge starter.  It's almost like the bread has two layers going into bake.  I see this technique quite frequently in Japan.   

Now, the yellow semolina flour that I ordered from King Arthur Flour arrived yesterday after two weeks been with the Australian Customs.  They are really tough (I mean, the Australian Customs).  A three pound bag cost 3 dollars but the DHL across the Pacific Ocean was many times that, which I could accept, but the Australian Customs... they stressed me out.     

Anyway, I was rejoicing the arrival of this golden semolina flour and wondering what I should make it into.  Whatever it was, I thought I'd better get my starter ready.  So, before bed last night, I refreshed my SP's starter.    This morning I was thinking, how about Golden Semolina Sourdough with Garlic Corn?  Plain semolina sourdough doesn't interest me enough.  I thought the color and the sweetness of corn go well with yellow semolina, and the texture would provide an extra dimension to the soft sourdough crumb.  As for the garlic, well, caramelised in olive oil, it is a combination that Chinese love.   All this musing turned out to be academic as I couldn't get to the shop early enough!  I needed to start the first fermentation by 8 am because I had a walking planned.  

As I was driving home from my walk, it came to me - why not Mottled Golden Semolina Sourdough?  Now, I felt excited.   

My 100% sourdough had not risen very much when I got home at around 10:30 because today was a very cool day, 19C (66F).  I gave it a stretch & fold and moved it to a sunny spot in my balcony.  The dough felt very soft; I knew there and then that I would need to give it a couple more stretch & folds to strengthen it.  At 1 pm, it doubled (after 5 hours of bulk fermentation).  I checked its temperature with my digital IR thermometer - 23C.  I moved it back indoors because it's ready to be shaped.  I prepared the semi-liquid solution for brushing.   I divided my dough into 4 pieces, and shaped them into rods; brushed the semi-liquid dough on top of all of the rods and placed them on baking paper resting on my counter top.  At 2 pm, I turned on my oven to 230C (450F).   After 2 hours of final proofing, at 3 pm, all 4 rods went into the oven.    Here are the pictures of these mottled 100% sourdough breads:



Mottled Golden Semolina Sourdough 



The crumb  


I am pleased.  The crumb is very open.  The flavor is exquisite.  And the mottled crust?  It is paper thin and soooo crispy.  I never knew I could feel satisfied so easily.  While I was preparing dinner, the moon has risen... from the east....



Moon light in my balcony    



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In my last post, French sourdough breads in Japan? ... and "variety breads"?, I mentioned the Taiwanese chef who won the second place in the 2008  the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie in Paris.  The chef who was responsible for the baguette/specialty breads section was Pao-Chun Wu from Kaohsiung, the second largest city in Taiwan.  The bread that won him the championship in the Asia qualifying tounament a year before the 2008 Olympics of bread-baking (to use SusanFNP's words at her Wild Yeast blog, as well as the 2008 "Olympics," is a creation incorporating a Taiwanese local dried fruit, longan, which was soaked in red wine and then made into a Pain de Menage style of bread.  (For a picture of this bread please refer to my comment in my last post.)

Longan (see pictures below) is a Southeast Chinese fruit, known for its rich syrupy aroma.  Throughout Chinese history, it is said that the North has ginseng and the South has longan.  The small town, near Kaohsiung, where chef Wu sources the dried longan for his championship boule, has been producing it for hundreds of years.  As soon as longan is harvested, it is roasted in a wood fired oven for six days and nights, during which time the town people take turns to mind the fire at night.    


Longan literally means "dragon's eyes" in Mandarin    

As I have no way of sourcing this dried longan or having access to chef Wu's recipe, I decided to make do with what I have.  I do have a reference point as I had the pleasure of tasting it five months ago when I was back in Taiwan visiting my parents for Chinese New Year.    

I bought a bag of the dried fruit from China town in Brisbane, soaked the fruit in red wine (with a touch of Grand Marnier) and refreshed my starter at the same time last night.  I am finding my starter has been performing much better since I changed its hydration to 75% from 100%.  This  morning I mixed my dough as normal, autolysed, salted it, then mixed again, then added the dried longan and mixed it again.  I then divided it into two portions; the larger portion I added extra toasted walnuts to make it into a boule; the smaller portion I made into two skinny breads.  First fermentation was 3 hours in the balmy wintry outdoor temp of 25C (77F) and proofing was 2 1/2 hours.  It was baked in a very hot oven at 240C (460F) with steam.


Red Wine Longan & Walnut Boule (It's early winter here in Australia but my bougainvilleas are still roaring with blooms.)    


The crumb of Red Wine Longan & Walnut Boule    


Red Wine Longan Sourdough    


The crumb of Red Wine Longan Sourdough    

I am very happy with the results of these breads.  The rich aroma from the longan and red wine is a cracker combination.   There is a delicate balance between the sweet longan and the added salt.  I was a bit shy with the red wine so the crumb color isn't as deep as in my memory.  In fact, a vintage port  may even be a better pair with the longan.  Both breads are delicious.  The crumb is moist and flavorsome and the crust is crispy and aromatic.  To further improve the flavor I could try retarding the dough next time.    

The silly thing is I thought I had my glasses on when I was weighing my ingredients (I was aiming for a final dough hydration of around 69%, counting the red wine) but the final dough was 400g more than I thought!  I do not know how much more flour or water that was actually put in.  My dough felt more like 72% than 69%!  As the flour I used was high gluten at 13.6%, I knew I could push the hydration to give the crumb a better chance of opening up; but I did not want too much hydration as my technique could not handle it.  My daughter asked me to write up the recipe for next time.  Well, it'll have to be a new one then.    


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The method of these two sourdough breads came from Bolangerie Comme Chinois' head chef, Nishikawa Takaaki, in Kobe, Japan.  His most recent cook, "Varie" (i.e., variety breads) is one of the most amazing books of modern French breads I have ever read.  For over many decades Japan has had dedicated chefs working and training in France; they then went back to Japan to not only spread the French bread culture but also to enrich their own.   The breads and pastry shops in Japan are simply wonderful.  In 2002 Japan won the triennial Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie in Paris.  (The US team took gold in 2005 and France only reclaimed their home gold in 2008.  Incidentally, Taiwan's first-ever representation to this event in 2008 came second to hosts France.)  

As Taiwan was under Japanese occupation for 50 years which ended at the end of the Second World War, many of my parents' generation speak Japanese.  I grew up in Taiwan eating what I now know as "variety breads" from Japan, which in turn came from France but with a heavy Japanese influence.  The "variety breads" that I had as a young kid were, and still are today, a meal on its own.  They can be either savory or more desert like - anything is possible with these variety breads.     

All variety breads came from a basic dough piece with "variety" built on to it.  Before I tried anything fancy, I thought I'd start off plain.   I used Nishikawa Takaaki's Pain Paysanne recipe for both breads here, which has 15% whole wheat and 5% rye meal.  It employs a poolish as well as a very firm starter @ 49% hydration.  My basic dough weighed 1,250g at 65% hydration, 700g of which I used for the plain sourdough bread below, and the balance 550g for the "wave" loaf.  For the sourdough bread, it's bulk fermented for 50 minutes at 28 degree C (82F) with one stretch & fold at the 30 minutes mark, then shaped and proofed for 3 hours also at 28 degree C.  

plain sourdough bread using Nishikawa's Pain Paysanne recipe

My "wave" loaf below is a poor representation of Nishikawa Takaaki's version.  The basic dough is placed in freezer for 30 minutes to firm up, at which point a piece of flatten out butter (25% dough weight) is incorporated and folded several times - much like the way dough is prepared for croissant.  The dough is then divided into two pieces which are twisted and, at the same time, braided before being placed into a loaf tin to proof for 3 hours at 28 degree C (82.5F), then bake with steam.


sourdough "wave" loaf using Nishkawa's Pain Paysanne's recipe as the basic dough


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Chinese had been poor throughout history. It's customary to greet people, "Have you eaten?"  Up until recently, when I had to call someone on the phone, the first thing I said was, "Have you had lunch (or dinner)?"  This is my hello, how's it going sort of greetings.  Lately I've found that must have sounded absurd to people.  I ran into Carol, our neighbour, and two (or should I say, three) nice looking lady friends of hers saying good-bye to each other at our cul-de-sac around mid-day today.  What did I say? I said, "Have you eaten?"  Immediately I felt absurd.  Carol said, no; we've just had green tea.  I said I had dough proofing at my countertop ready to be baked; would you like to try?  Fortunately they said no; it wouldn't have been enough.  So, here it is.  The bread for today, a one-pounder.  








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