Cat and I don’t throw dinner parties very often, but when we do we are reminded that we are pretty dang good at it. And now that I have become a semi-competent baker, the parties are even better.
There were several reasons for last night’s event: (1) a business associate (and friend) of Cat’s is visiting from New Zealand, (2) he’s also a good friend of Cat’s boss, whom we had never hosted in our home, (3) he’s also a good friend of Cat’s brother and brother-in-law, who are also friends of Cat’s boss and always entertaining, and (4) we had so much bread in the freezer that Cat and I would have been eating Panzanella for a month to whittle it down. Oh, yeah, and (5) we like feeding and fermenting friends into a frenzy of frivolity.
I should mention that “having the boss and his wife over for dinner” may sound like a tense occasion (ala how many old movies). But in Cat’s case, her boss recruited her years ago, already knowing her intelligence, skill and good nature, and his opinion of her has only grown higher over the years. I suppose we could have messed up her work life by poisoning the boss, but I didn’t even think about that scary prospect until now. I am conscious of the reversal of classic roles here: the wife, a manager in a big corporation, invites the boss and his wife over for a dinner prepared by the husband (whom she likes to keep in the kitchen).
The menu included baguettes and cheeses and toasted Curry-Onion-Bacon-Cheese Bread (http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/22549/some-spice-breads-–-one-sweet-and-one-savory) to start, with a main course of charcoal-grilled butterflied leg of lamb (Julia Child marinade), bulgur pilaf, and Panzanella with heirloom tomatoes and herb fried Tartine BCB (http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/24230/continuing-italian-theme-panzanella). Dessert was vanilla ice cream, awesome strawberries and Chewy Chocolate Cherry Cookies.
Cat’s boss is a widely recognized gourmand and his wife was (before kids) a talented professional chef. So I chose to prepare proven recipes (except the cookies, of which more below). Having a Kiwi visitor was an opportunity to prove the superiority of California Lamb over the New Zealish variety (I don’t really mean that—the lamb in New Zealand is spectacular, much better than what they export to the U.S.).
Anyway, enough background. I should say something about baking since this is still, to a large degree, a bread-oriented web site, pastrami and pickles to the contrary notwithstanding.
I have been experimenting with different baguette formulas lately, but the most reliable for me, and the one I like best, is proth5’s formula now known as “bear-guettes” (recipe below). The dough is a dream to work with, and the result is crispy-crackly crust and tender creamy crumb…perfect as a cheese conveyance. The formula makes 6 mini-baguettes. I divided the dough after an hour of bulk fermentation and put half in the refrigerator for 90 minutes, so I could bake in two batches, the second after leaving enough time for the steaming skillet to get back up to temperature. The results were quite satisfactory, with many oohs and ahs (attributable in part, I’m sure, to the creamy goat cheese the baguettes conveyed).
The main course was also very good. Grilled lamb and bulgur pilaf are nicely enhanced by a puddle of tart vinaigrette from the salad. Cat’s boss’s wife—the chef—commented appreciatively on how perfect the bread in the Panzanella was; she thought I’d gotten the bread from Tartine Bakery, and seemed impressed when she learned I’d baked it myself from the Tartine recipe. As much as I treasure my wife’s favorable reaction to my bread, there’s nothing like unbiased third-party expert validation. The feast was washed down with a pretty fair duo of 2001 pinot noirs, one from the Russian River Valley (Dehlinger) and one from Burgandy (a Gevrey-Chambertin).
Then, the dessert. I’ve toyed with chewy chocolate cookie recipes for years, my favorite being a Mocha cookie with bitter-sweet chocolate, fresh ground dark roast coffee and (I hate to admit) instant coffee crystals. Somewhere recently I saw a formula for a chocolate bread with sour cherries and nuts, and thought that chocolate-cherry cookies would be pretty good. So I modified my Mocha cookie recipe to replace the coffee with more chocolate and added dried tart cherries. Awesome! Very soft and chocolaty, with the extra chew and tartness of dried fruit.
After some coffee and music, our guests waddled off into the late night and I’m confident Cat’s job is safe.
Here’re the recipes:
(adapted from dmsnyder’s report on proth5’s formula. See further notes at http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/21620/proth5039s-quotstarting-get-bearquot-baguettes)
Mix the poolish and the levain and let them ferment at room temperature for 8-12 hours.
Mix all the ingredients except the salt to a shaggy mass. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.
Add the salt and hand mix in a large bowl.
Bulk ferment for 4 hours with a stretch and fold at 2 hours. (I cold retarded half after the S&F for 90 minutes).
Divide into 10.5 oz pieces and pre-shape as logs. Rest the pieces, covered, for 20-30 minutes.
Shape as baguettes.
Proof en couche for 1.5 hours.
Pre-heat oven to 500ºF with baking stone and steaming apparatus in place.
Transfer loaves to peel. Score them and transfer them to the oven.
Reduce oven temperature top 460 F and bake with steam for 10 minutes, and bake dry for another 9-11 minutes.
Transfer to a cooling rack and cool thoroughly before eating.
CHEWY CHOCOLATE CHERRY COOKIES
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Scharffenberger)
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks), melted
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
4 oz. Scharffenberger bittersweet baking chocolate, chopped or shaved
2 cups dried cherries
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder; set aside.
In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar until well blended. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until just blended. Stir in the chopped baking chocolate and cherries by hand using a wooden spoon.
Refrigerate dough at least one hour.
Drop cookie dough (about ¾ of a 1/4 cup measure per piece) onto the prepared cookie sheets. Cookies should be at least 1 ½ inches apart. Flatten each cookie a bit.
Bake for 12-13 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the edges are lightly toasted. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.