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zolablue's picture
zolablue

Thom Leonard's Country French

I'm posting this recipe for discussion as we have been talking about it on the Glezer firm starter thread.  I have made this bread often with variations because I did not have the high-extraction flour yet.  I recently purchased the Golden Buffalo flour from Heartland Mill in Kansas and it was superb.  I didn’t take photos of those so will next time I make it.

 

The one pictured here was made using Hodgson Mill WW graham flour sifted for the WW portion (250g) and mixed with the 750g King Arthur bread flour.  I’ve also made it sifting the King Arthur traditional and organic WW flours but I like the sweetness of the graham flour.  Still, I think after using that high-extraction flour the flavor was so extraordinary I would choose to make it that way more often.

 

Mountaindog has also posted her variation on this bread here and she makes beautiful loaves of it. 

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/1806/thom-leonard-country-french-boule-recipe

This is a great recipe to play around with and it always comes out fabulous bread.  Another note – I generally like to make four smaller boules but when I made them with the high-extraction flour I made two boules and they were large and fantastic. 

 

Here are the some photos of the ones I made a few months ago (more photos here: http://zolablue.smugmug.com/gallery/2671417#141408937 ) and the recipe follows:

Thom Leonard’s Country French Bread - © Maggie Glezer, Artisan Baking  

Makes one 4 pound (1.8-kilo) loafTime: At least 18 hours with about 30 minutes of active work 

Much of what makes this bread so special is the high-extraction flour used in it.  This is a bolted whole-wheat flour much lighter in color and sweeter in flavor than a whole-wheat flour (at 100% extraction), but much darker and more flavorful than a white flour (at 72% extraction).

 

The method I give here for making your own high-extraction flour will work best on coarsely ground whole wheat flour.  If you already have a good high-extraction flour, substitute it for the whole-wheat and bread flour in the final recipe.  Thom also includes a little of his sourdough rye starter in the dough, but it is such a small amount that I have bumped up the levain slightly and added rye flour to the final dough instead.

RECIPE SYNOPSIS The evening before baking - making the Levain: 

25 grams (1 1/2 tablespoons or 0.8 oz) fermented firm sourdough starter refreshed 8 hrs before (17%)

140 grams (2/3 cup or 4.9 oz) water, lukewarm (100%)

140 grams (1 cup minus 1 tablespoon or 4.9 oz) unbleached bread flour (100%)

 

Dissolve the sourdough starter in the water in a small bowl.  Add the flour and beat this batter-like dough until very smooth. Place in a covered container and let it ferment overnight for 8 hours, or until fully risen and just starting to sink in the middle.

Bake Day – Mixing the Dough: 

350 grams (about 12 oz or about 2 1/2 cups) Coarsely ground whole-wheat flour, preferably milled from an organic, hard winter wheat (eventually 25%)

750 grams (26.5 oz or 5 cups) unbleached bread flour, preferably organic (75%)

30 grams (1 oz or 1/4 cup) organic whole-rye flour (3%)

660 grams (24 oz or 3 cups) water (66%)

Fermented levain (30%)

23 grams (0.8 oz or 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons) salt (2.3%)

Preparing the flour: 

Sift the whole-wheat through your finest sieve or flour sifter.  The large flakes of bran should be caught in the sieve (use them for flouring your peel or for muffins).  Measure out 2 cups 3 tablespoons (8.8 ounces, 250 grams) sifted flour.  Mix this dark flour with the bread flour and the rye flour in a large bowl or in the work bowl of your mixer.

 

Add the water to the fermented levain to loosen it from the container.

  

Mixing the dough: 

By hand:  Pour the watered levain into the flours and stir with your hands or a wooden spoon just until a rough dough forms.  Turn the dough out onto the unfloured work surface and continue kneading until the dough is very smooth and shiny, about 10 minutes.  This is a lot of dough and will take some muscle.  Sprinkle on the salt and continue to knead the bread until the salt has fully dissolved and the dough is very smooth and shiny.

  

By stand mixer:  Add the watered levain to the flours in the work bowl and stir the dough together with a wooden spoon or your hand (this will make the mixing go more quickly).  Using the dough hook, mix the dough on medium speed for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until the dough is very smooth and almost cleans the bowl.  Add the salt and continue mixing until the dough is much tighter and cleans the bowl, about 5 more minutes.

This should be a soft, sticky, and extensible dough.  

Fermenting and turning the dough:  

Place the dough in a container at least 3 times its size and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Let it ferment until it is airy and well expanded but not yet double in bulk, about 3 hours.  Turn the dough 3 times at 30-minute intervals, that is, after 30, 60, and 90 minutes of fermenting, then leave the dough undisturbed for the remaining time.

Rounding and resting the dough: 

Flour the surface of the dough and your work surface and turn the dough out.  Tuck the edges of the dough in to tighten it, round it, and cover it loosely with plastic wrap.  Let it rest until well relaxed, 10 to 15 minutes.  While the dough is resting, sift flour over a linen-lined basket or line a large colander with a well-floured tea towel.

Shaping and proofing the dough: 

Shape the dough into an even and tight round loaf without deflating it.  Place the dough topside down in a linen-lined basket or large colander, lightly sprinkle it with flour, and cover it well with plastic wrap.  Proof the dough until it is well expanded, about doubled in volume and remains indented when lightly pressed with a floured finger, after about 4 hours.

Preheating the oven: 

At least 45 minutes before the dough is fully proofed, arrange a rack on the oven’s second-to-top shelf and place a baking stone on it.  Clear away all racks above the one being used Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C).

Baking the bread: 

If desired, just before baking the bread, fill the oven with steam.  Turn the bread out onto a sheet of parchment paper or a floured peel and slash 3 to 4 diagonal slashes and 3 to 4 horizontal slashes into the top.  It will look like a skewed grid with diamond-shaped openings.  Slide the bread, still on the paper, onto the hot stone and bake until the bread is dark and evenly browned all around and sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, 70 to 80 minutes, rotating it halfway into the bake.  If the bread is browning too quickly, reduce the oven temperature to 400°F (205°C), but still bake the bread for at least 70 minutes.  Let the bread cool on a rack.

  

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Pizza Bliss

I like pizza quite a lot, but my wife loves it. She told me last night that Pizza is the one food she can “over-eat.” I could not start to list the foods I will predictably over-eat given the opportunity, but my wife has this super-human self-control. So this confession tells you that pizza is really special to her.

I've made some pretty good pizze and some not so good. Last night I made the best pizza I've ever made by a long shot. In fact, I do believe it was the best pizza crust I've ever eaten.

The crust was based on the “Overnight Pizza Dough with Levain” from Ken Forkish's Flour Water Salt Yeast. I say “based” because, while the ingredients and procedures were pretty much as Forkish prescribes, the timing of many steps was different. Some of those differences were planned, and some were …. accommodations. I'm not going to claim that the crust turned out so well because of my baking genius, but I am going to try to capture what I ended up doing so I can do it again … on purpose next time.

  

Total dough

Wt (g)

Baker's %

Levain

 

10*

Caputo 00 flour

980

98

Giusto's fine whole wheat flour

20

2

Water

700

70

Salt

20

2

Total

1720

172

* Percent of total flour that is pre-fermented.

 

Levain

Wt (g)

Baker's %

Mature, active levain

25

10

Caputo 00 flour

100

80

Giusto's fine whole wheat flour

25

20

Water (90 ºF)

100

80

Total

250

190

 

  1. Dissolve the levain in the water.

  2. Add the flours and mix thoroughly.

  3. Ferment at room temperature until expanded by 2 to 2.5 times. (Note: Forkish specifies fermenting for 8 to 10 hours. My levain was ripe in 6 hours. So, I went to step 4.)

  4. Refrigerate overnight or for up to 2 days.

 

Final dough

Wt (g)

Caputo 00 flour

900

Water (90-95 ºF)

620

Fine sea salt

20

Levain

180

Total

1720

  1. Take the levain out of the fridge 1-2 hours before mixing the final dough.

  2. Mix the water and flour to a shaggy mass and allow it to rest, covered, for 20-60 minutes (autolyse).

  3. Sprinkle the salt over the dough and add 180 g of the levain divided into 4-6 pieces. Mix using the “pinch and fold” procedure described by Forkish.

  4. Bulk ferment for 5 to 14 hours, or until the dough has expanded 2 to 2.5 times. Do stretch and folds at 30 minute intervals 2-4 times . Then just let the dough ferment undisturbed. (Note: I know this time range (5 to 14 hours) sounds absurd. Forkish's instructions are to ferment overnight for 12 to 14 hours, but my dough had doubled in 5-6 hours and was very bubbly. If I had let it ferment for another 6 to 8 hours, I would have had soup.)

  5. Transfer the dough to a well-floured board. Dust the dough and your hands with flour. Divide the dough into 350 g pieces. (You will get 4 pieces of 350 g and one that is larger.

  6. Shape each piece into a fairly tight ball and place them in ZipLoc-type sandwich bags with a tablespoon of olive oil in each.

  7. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and for up to 3 days.

  8. When you are ready to make your pizza/e, 2 1/2 to 4 hours before shaping the pizze, take the number of dough balls you will need out of the fridge. Let them warm up at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The balls should expand by a third to a half.

  9. Put the dough balls back in the fridge for the last half hour to an hour before shaping them into pizze. This is because the dough is a bit more elastic and less fragile when cold.

  10. Take one ball of dough at a time out of the fridge. Shape it. Top it. Bake it. Enjoy!

 

This “in and out of the fridge” stuff may seem unduly complicated. It happened because we changed our minds about going to a concert a couple times before finally deciding to stay home and make pizza. See, if we had decided to go, there wouldn't have been time to make pizza and eat it beforehand. But, in hindsight, this procedure makes a lot of sense. A longer fermentation improves flavor, but retarding the dough in the fridge was needed to prevent over-fermentation. The warm-up in Step 8. just completed the fermentation to an optimal degree. I could have just let the bulk fermentation go a bit longer – say about an hour – and then not needed Step. 8 and 9 at all.

This dough was a delight to shape. It had just the right balance of elasticity and extensibility. When baked at 500 ºF for 10 to 11 minutes, the edges puffed up beautifully. They were crackling crispy. The dough under the toppings was moderately chewy but not at all “tough.” The most remarkable feature was the flavor. It was mildly sour but very wheaty, sweet and complex. It was astonishingly delicious. My wife, who often leaves pizza crust un-eaten, actually left the center part un-eaten and ate the outer crust in preference.

How much of this was the procedures and how much the use of 98% Caputo 00 flour? That's hard to answer. I suppose I need to make this dough again using a good AP flour to find out.

I made two 10 or 12 inch pizze. One was a classic Pizza Margherita made with olive oil, fresh mozzarella, fresh, locally grown San Marzano-variety tomatoes which were par-boiled, skinned, seeded and cut into strips and fresh basel leaves from our garden, added after the pizza was baked.

 

The other pizza was topped with a heavy spread of good olive oil, fresh, finely chopped rosemary and fleur de sel. After baking, the top was rubbed with a cut San Marzano tomato which was then hand-shredded and spread over the pizza. (Note to self: Lose the salt, if you don't want Susan to complain. Substitute thinly sliced garlic.)

 

Well, we do have 3 pizza dough balls left, including a 380 g one. I am going to make a potato pizza that's been on my “to bake list” for a few years, ever since I first read about it in Leader's Local Breads then again in Maggie Glezer's Artisan Breads.

Yum!

Happy baking!

David

Submitted to YeastSpotting

Susan's picture
Susan

Eric's Fav Rye

Eric's Fav RyeEric's Fav Rye

My first try

at Eric's favorite deli rye.

Eric's Rye CrumbEric's Rye Crumb

JMonkey's picture
JMonkey

Lesson: Squeeze more sour from your sourdough

I am far from a sourdough expert. I’ve only been baking sourdough since February, and I still have a lot to learn about shaping, scoring and proofing to perfection.

However, there is one thing I have learned well: how to squeeze more flavor out of my naturally sweet starter. Here's the basic tips.

1) Keep the starter stiff
2) Spike your white starter with whole rye
3) Use starter that is well-fed
4) Keep the dough cool
5) Extend the rise by degassing
6) Proof the shaped loaves overnight in the fridge

Photos and elaboration follow.

It’s a common lament that I see on bread baking forums – Why isn’t my sourdough sour?

Personally, I blame Watertown. My evidence? I gave some of my starter to a friend who lives six miles away in Lexington. Within 6 weeks, she was making sour tasting sourdough. Her local yeastie beasties are clearly more sour than mine.

I don’t know what it is about the microflora that live in the little hollow between the hills that I occupy in Watertown, Mass., but treated traditionally, my white starter and my whole wheat starter pack as much sour taste as a loaf of Wonder Bread. That’s not to say that the loaves don’t taste nice. They do. They’re wheaty with a touch of a buttery aftertaste.

But they don’t taste sour, which is how I think sourdough ought to taste.

Anyway, I’ve finally figured out how to get the tangy loaves I love. If you’re facing the same sweet trouble as me, perhaps some (or all) of these tips will help.

1) Keep your starter stiff:

Traditionally, sourdough starter is kept as a batter. The most common consistency is to have equal weights of water and flour, also known as 100% hydration because the water weight is equal to 100% of the flour weight. That’s roughly 1 scant cup of flour to about ½ cup of water. Jeffrey Hammelman keeps his at 125%, and quite a few folks keep theirs at 200% (1 cup water to 1 cup flour).

I keep my sourdough starter at 50% hydration, meaning that for every 2 units of flour weight, I add 1 unit of water.

Barney Barm, my white starter is on the left; Arthur the whole wheat starter on the right. The bran and germ in whole wheat absorb a lot of water, so that starter is even stiffer than the white.

There are two basic types of bacteria that flourish in a sourdough starter. One produces lactic acid, which gives the bread a smooth taste, sort of like yogurt. It does best in wet, warm environment. The other makes acetic acid, the acid that gives bread its sharp tang. These bacteria prefer a drier, cooler environment.

(Or so I've read, anyway. I ain't no biochemist; I just know what they print in them books.)

A hydration of 50% is pretty stiff, especially for a whole-wheat starter. You really have to knead strongly to convince the starter to incorporate all the flour.

For example, here's my white starter after I've done my best to mix it up in the bucket. Time to knead a bit.

Here's what it looks like after kneading.

And here's what it looks like 5 hours later once it's ripe.

Conversion from 100% to 50% isn't hard to do if you've got a kitchen scale.

Take 2 ounces of your 100% starter. Then add 5 ounces of flour and 2 ounces of water. This should give you 9 ounces of starter. Leave it overnight, and it should be ripened in the morning.

From there on out when you feed it, add 1 unit of water for every 2 units of flour. I'd recommend feeding it 2 or 3 more times before using it, though, so that the yeast and bacteria can acclimate to the new environment.

There are additional advantages to a stiff starter beyond producing a more sour bread.

First, a stiff starter is easier to transport. Just throw a hunk into a bag, and you’re done.

Supposedly, the stiff stuff keeps longer than the batters. You can leave stiff starter in the fridge for months, or so I hear, and it can still be revived. Never tried it myself, though, so don't take my word for it.

Finally, the math for feeding is easy at 50% hydration, much easier than 60% or 65%. Just feed your starter in multiples of threes. For exmaple, if I’ve got 3 ounces of starter and I need to feed it, I'll probably triple it in size. To get six additional ounces for food, I just add 4 ounces flour and 2 ounces water. Piece of cake.

Converting recipes isn’t hard either. First, figure out the total water weight and total flour weight in the original recipe, including what's in the starter. If the recipe calls for a 100% hydration starter, then half of the starter is flour and the other half is water. Divide it accordingly to get the total flour and total water weights in the final dough.

Now, add the total water and total flour together. Take that figure and multiply by 0.30. This will tell you how much stiff starter you’ll need.

Last, subtract the amount of water in the stiff starter from the total water in the final dough, and the amount of flour in the stiff starter from the total flour in the final dough. The results tell you how much flour and water to add to the starter to get the final dough. Everything else remains the same.

2) Spike your white starter with whole rye flour:

It doesn’t take much. Currently, my white starter is about 10-15% whole rye. Basically, for every 3 ounces of white flour that I feed the starter, I replace ½ ounce with whole rye. That small portion of rye makes a big difference in flavor. Rye is to sourdough microflora as spinach is to Popeye. It’s super-food that’s easily digestible and nutrient rich. That’s why so many recipes for getting a starter going from scratch suggest you start with whole rye.

Here I am, about to add rye to "Barney Barm," my white starter. I haven’t added rye to my whole-wheat starter, though. It hasn’t needed it – there’s more than enough nutrients in the whole wheat to keep the starter party going strong.

3) Use starter that is well fed: Early in my search to sour my sourdough, I’d read that, if you leave a starter unfed and on the counter for a few days before baking, it will make your bread more sour.

I’ve found that’s not the case. The starter gets more sour, but the bread doesn’t taste very sour at all.

The better course is to take your starter out of the fridge at least a couple of days before you use it, and then feed it two or three times before you make the final dough. Healthy microflora make a more flavorful bread.

4) Keep the dough cool:

When I first started out, I was following recipes that called for the dough to be at 79 degrees, and I’d often put it in a fairly warm place to rise. Warmth kills sour taste. Nowadays, I add water that’s room temperature, not warmed, and aim for a much cooler rise, no higher than 75 degrees and often as low as 64.

The cellar is your friend.

5) Extend the rise by degassing:

When I make whole wheat sourdough, I usually let the dough rise until it has doubled and then degass it by folding until it rises a second time. Along with cool dough, this means the bulk fermentation usually lasts 5-6 hours.

When I’m making pain au levain or some other white flour sourdough, I usually have the dough very wet, so it needs more than one fold to give it the strength it needs. In this case, I fold once at 90 minutes and then again after another 90 minutes. Usually, the full bulk rise lasts about 5 hours.

Here's a sequence showing how I fold my whole-wheat sourdough.

First, turn the risen dough out on a lightly floured surface (heavily floured if your dough is very wet).

Stretch it to about twice its length.

Gently degass one-third of the dough, fold it over the middle, and degass the middle section to seal.

Do the same for the remaining side. Take the folded dough, turn it one-quarter, and fold once more before returning to the bowl or bucket to rise again.

6) Proof the shaped loaves overnight in the fridge:

This final touch really brings out the flavor. So much so that, if you’ve incorporated all the other suggestions, proofing overnight might make your bread a bit too sour for your taste. My wife and I like it assertively sour, however, so this step is a must.

Normally, I’d suggest proofing your loaves on the top shelf where it’s warmest, so as not to kill off any yeast, but I find that if I put my loaves in the top, they’re ready in about 4-6 hours, at which time I’m usually sound asleep. So I started putting them in the bottom, and had better luck.

I hope this helps those of you who dread pulling another beautiful loaf from the oven, only to find it looks better than it tastes. Best of luck!

PDLarry's picture
PDLarry

Nostalgia

Grew up eating this stuff. Custard buns. My cousin who now lives in Hong Kong sent me a recipe and I was able to make some... tears.

San Joaquin Sourdough

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Description

While I enjoy a variety of breads, the San Joaquin Sourdough remains my “go to” bread. It's easy to fit into a busy schedule. It uses few ingredients. It always tastes delicious. It's wonderful freshly baked but also makes great toast, French toast, garlic bread and croutons for salads or onion soup. It is almost as good after being frozen as fresh. What's not to like?

I first developed this formula about 3 years ago. Since then, I've tweaked the formula and methods in many ways. I know many TFL members have made this bread and enjoyed it. So, I thought an update on my current recipe might be of interest.

To summarize the changes I've made in the past 6 months:

  1. I substituted 25 g of whole wheat flour for an equal amount of the rye flour in the original formula. The difference in flavor is subtle, but I like it better.

  2. I adopted the oven steaming method for home ovens we were taught in the SFBI Artisan I and II workshops. 

Summary

Yield
556 g Bâtards
SourceMy own recipe.
Prep time6 hours
Cooking time30 minutes
Total time6 hours, 30 minutes

Ingredients

450 g
all-purpose unbleached flour
25 g
Medium rye flour
360 g
water
10 g
salt
100 g
Liquid levain (100% hydration)

Instructions

Procedures

Mixing

In a large bowl, mix the active starter with the water to dissolve it. Add the flours and stir to form a shaggy mass. Cover tightly and let rest (autolyse) for 20-60 minutes.

Sprinkle the salt over the dough. Using a plastic scraper or silicon spatula, stretch and fold the dough 30 times, rotating the bowl 1/5 turn between each stroke. Cover tightly. Repeat this stretch and fold procedure 3 times more at 30 minute intervals.

Fermentation

After the last series of stretches and folds, scape the dough into a lightly oiled 2 quart/2 liter container and cover tightly. (I use a 2 quart glass measuring pitcher with a tightly fitting plastic lid manufactured by Anchor Glass.) Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes with a stretch and fold after 45 and 90 minutes, then return the dough to the container and place it in the refrigerator and leave it there for 21 hours. 

Dividing and Shaping

Take the dough out of the refrigerator and scrape it gently onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently pat it into a rectangle. Divide the dough into two equal pieces.

To pre-shape for a bâtard, I now form a ball rather than a log. Place each piece of dough smooth side down. Pat into a rough circle, degassing the dough gently in the process. Bring the far edge to the middle and seal the seam. Then go around the dough, bringing about 1/5 of the dough to the middle and sealing it. Repeat until you have brought the entire circumference of the piece to the middle. Turn the piece over, and shape as a boule. Turn each ball seam side up onto a lightly floured part of your board.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and/or a kitchen towel and let it rest for about 60 minutes. (The time will depend on ambient temperature and how active your starter is. The dough should have risen slightly, but not much.)

To shape a bâtard, I now favor the method portrayed in the King Arthur Flour instructional video. I encourage you to watch the video, but here is a verbal description of the method:

  1. For each piece of dough, place it in front of you on an un-floured board.

  2. Hold down the near side and stretch the far side of the piece into a rough rectangle about 8 inches front to back.

  3. Now, fold the far end two thirds of the way to the near end and seal the seam with the heel of your hand.

  4. Take each of the far corners of the piece and fold them to the middle of the near side of your first fold. Seal the seams.

  5. Now, the far end of the dough piece should be roughly triangular with the apex pointing away from you. Grasp the apex of the triangle and bring it all the way to the near edge of the dough piece. Seal the resulting seam along the entire width of the loaf.

  6. Turn the loaf seam side up and pinch the seam closed, if there are any gaps.

  7. Turn the loaf seam side down. Then, with the palms of both hands resting softly on the loaf, roll it back and forth to shape a bâtard. Start with both hands in the middle of the loaf and move them outward as you roll the loaf, slightly increasing the pressure as you move outward, so the bâtard ends up with the middle highest and the ends pointed .

Preheating the oven

One hour before baking, place a baking stone on the middle rack and put your steaming apparatus of choice in place. (I currently use a 7 inch cast iron skillet filled with lava rocks.) Heat the oven to 500F.

Proofing

After shaping the loaves, transfer them to a linen couche, seam side up. Cover the loaves with a fold of the linen. Proof until the loaves have expanded to about 1-1/2 times their original size. (30-45 minutes) Test readiness for baking using “the poke test.” Do not over-proof, if you want good oven-spring and bloom!

Baking

Pre-steam the oven, if desired.

Transfer the loaves to a peel. (Remember you proofed them seam side up. If using a transfer peel, turn the loaves over on the couch before rolling them onto the transfer peel. That way, the loaves will be seam side down on the peel.) Score the loaves. (For a bâtard, hold the blade at about a 30 degree angle to the surface of the loaf. Make one swift end-to-end cut, about 1/2 inch deep.)

Transfer the loaves to the baking stone. Steam the oven. (I place a perforated pie tin with about 12 ice cubes in it on top of the pre-heated lava rocks.) Turn the oven down to 460F.

After 12-15 minutes, remove your steaming apparatus from the oven. Rotate the loaf 180 degrees, if it is browning unevenly. Close the oven door. (If you have a convection oven, switch to convection bake, and turn the temperature down to 435ºF.)

Bake for another 12-15 minutes, then remove the loaf and place on a cooling rack. Check for doneness. (Nice crust color. Internal temperature of at least 205F. Hollow sound when you thump the bottom of the loaf.) If necessary, return to loaf to the oven to bake longer.

When the loaves are done, turn off the oven but leave the loaves on the baking stone with the oven door ajar for another 7 minutes to dry the crust.

Cooling

Cool on a rack for two hours before slicing.

Notes

Eclairs

eclair tray

Want to impress your sweetheart this Valentine's Day? REALLY impress your sweetie? Then make these éclairs.

They look like they'd be a ton of work, don't they? I thought they would be, but they really aren't that hard. From first flipping open the cookbook (the 1997 edition of the Joy of Cooking) to the moment I was getting blissed out eating them was under two hours. Not bad at all, and fresh out of the oven these were the best éclairs I've ever had.

Eclairs

There are three parts to éclairs: the pastry (pâte à choux), the filling (crème pâtissière), and the topping (chocolate ganache). If you are strapped for time you could cut corners on one or more of the parts by doing things like using frozen puffed pastry for the pastry, pudding or whipped cream for the filling, or some other frosting for the topping. Take a look at the recipes before doing so though: none of the pieces are that hard. There are a few places where you have to bring things to a boil carefully to prevent scalding, but I've found that if you warm the ingredients in the microwave before combining them in your sauce pan you can easily cut 10 or 15 minutes of stirring out of the process.

Choux Paste (pâte à choux)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup milk

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 eggs

Combine the water, milk, butter, and salt in a small saucepan. Bring it to a boil. Stir in the flour and, while mixing, cook another minute or 2 to eliminate excess moisture. Transfer to a bowl and let cool for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

choux paste

Beat in one egg at at time. When they have all been beaten in and the paste is smooth and shiny, set aside to cool. The paste may be use immediately or covered and refrigerated for later use.

Pastry Cream (Crème Pâtissière)

1/3 cups sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons corn starch

4 egg yolks

1 1/3 cups milk

3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Combine the sugar, flour, corn starch, and egg yolks in a bowl. Beat with an electric mixer for 2 minutes until the mixture is thick and pale yellow.

egg mixture

In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. Gradually pour the milk into the egg mixture, stirring it in as you do so. When fully combined, pour all of it into the saucepan and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Boil for 1 to 2 minutes then remove mixture from heat. Stir in the vanilla and set aside to cool.

Cover the top with wax paper or parchment to prevent a skin from forming. This cream may be refrigerated for a day or two before use or used immediately.

Chocolate Ganache

3/4 cup heavy cream

8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate

Heat the cream. Stir in the chocolate and continue heating and stirring until all of the chocolate is melted.

ganache

Éclairs: Assembly

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Form small logs out of the Choux paste on a baking sheet. If you have a pastry bag with large tips, you can squeeze them out neatly. I do not, so I just formed the logs with a spoon and my fingers.

eclair shaping

These were about an inch across and 3 to 4 inches long.

Bake the pastries for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Reduce the oven to 350 degrees and bake for another 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the eclairs you are making.

When they are golden brown, turn the oven off. Poke a hole in the small end of the eclair and place them back in the oven for another 10 minutes to dry out. Remove the eclairs from the oven and let them cool a few minutes.

baked eclairs

For the topping, dip or dribble the eclairs in the chocolate ganache.

eclairs

To fill the eclairs, you can either use a pastry bag and squirt the pastry cream in through the drying hole as I did. Or you can slice the eclairs lengthwise and scoop the filling inside and place the top half back on top.

filling eclairs

There you have it: chocolate, creamy bliss.

The eclairs keep OK for a few days in the refrigerator in an air tight container, but they are not nearly as good as when they are first assembled. Take my advice: make all of the elements in the same session, bake them up and make a fresh pot of coffee, and enjoy them immediately. You won't be sorry!

tray of eclairs

Related Recipes: Pain Rapide au Chocolat, Brioche.

Pumpkin Bread

pumpkin bread in window
I love pumpkin bread and muffins any time of the year, particularly with chocolate chips in it and while sipping a cup of dark coffee, but pumpkin bread seems particularly appropriate this time of year.

This is a recipe for your standard pumpkin quick bread; yeasted pumpkin breads are rare, though not unheard of. Fresh pumpkin can be be used, though I usually take the easy way out and just use canned pumpkin puree. Whole wheat flour can also be substituted for some or all of the all-purpose flour for a change of pace.

Because the moisture content of the pumpkin can vary, as it can in the flour, the recipe recommends between 3 and 4 cups of flour. I used about 3 1/2 cups, but don't be afraid to trust your gut and adjust according to conditions.


Pumpkin Bread

Pumpkin Bread

Makes approximately 12 muffins, 3 small loaves, or 1 large loaf
1 3/4 cup (1 15 oz. can) pureed pumpkin
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
3 eggs
3-4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups chopped walnuts or chocolate chips


Preheat the oven to 350.

Combine the pumpkin, brown sugar, butter, and eggs and mix until creamy. In a separate bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients except the nuts or chocolate chips. Mix 3 cups of the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, then add as much of the 4th cup as necessary to achieve the proper consistency (moist, but thick enough to stand a spoon in). Add the nuts or chocolate chips and stir in.

Pour or spoon the batter into greased muffin tins or bread pans. Bake on the center rack until a toothpick poked into the center comes out dry. At sea level, muffins should take between 20 and 25 minutes to bake, small loaves between 25 and 30 minutes, and full sized loaves between 50 minutes and 1 hour.

pumpkin bread on cutting board
Autumn is here!

Lessons

Want to learn how to bake bread? Do it! It is about the cheapest, most enjoyable, most rewarding pastime I can think of.

I can't promise that these lessons will prevent you from making mistakes, because making mistakes is just part of learning (and something I still do all the time). But hopefully they'll give you some good ways of getting started and help you improve your understand of what is happening inside of your loaf.

Also, check out some of the tremendous lessons that community members have contributed:
Floydm's picture
Floydm

English Muffins

Today I tried making English Muffins for the first time. They turned out pretty good:

I think I made the dough a little too dry, so I didn't get the big holes inside that you want, but they still tasted good.

I used the recipe from Beth Hensberger's Bread Bible. I may try another next time, but no complaints about this recipe.

Traditional English Muffins

1/4 cup warm water (105 - 115 degrees)
1 tablespoon (1 package) active dry yeast (or a little less than a tablespoon of instant yeast)
Pinch of sugar
4 to 4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 egg
1 1/4 cup warm milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
Cornmeal (for dusting)

If using active dry yeast, combine the water, yeast, and a pinch of sugar in a small bowl and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. If using instant yeast, as I did, you can just mix the yeast in with the flour and omit this first step and the sugar.

Combine 2 cups of the flour and the salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in egg, milk, butter, and yeast mixture. Mix until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time, stirring in each time, until you have a soft dough that just clears the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead for 3 to 5 minutes. Return the dough to a clean, greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise until doubled in size, about 90 minutes.

Sprinkle a work surface with cornmeal. Pour the dough out of the bowl and onto the surface. Sprinkle the top of the dough with cornmeal and then roll the dough into a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick. Use a large round cookie cutter or an upside down drinking glass to cut the muffins out of the dough.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Place the muffins onto the skillet and let the bake for 5 to 10 minutes until quite dark before flipping.

An optional step, if you are concerned about baking them all the way through (which I was), is to have your oven heated to 350. After baking the muffins on the griddle for 5 minutes on each side, place them on a cookie sheet and place them into the oven for an additional 5 to 10 minutes. This assures that they are baked through.

Enjoy!

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