Posts Tagged ‘bread’

I bought the Tartine Bread cookbook. I had been eyeing it for months. Every time I saw it in a store, I’d pick it up, run my hand over the slightly puffy and spot varnished cover, flip through a few pages, sigh, and put it back. If I bought every hard cover, photo-filled cookbook that I wanted, I’d have to build a house out of them because I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent. But I broke down.

I have been experimenting with bread baking quite a bit lately:

First, I grew my own sourdough starter that is still alive (and I suspect drinking all my wine when I leave the apartment).

Then I made a travesty of a loaf of bread with said starter.

Yet, from the same starter, I managed my favorite pizza dough to date.

Following these escapades, I made some bread Jim Lahey style, using purchased yeast and a slow rise, and it was very successful.

But I wanted to get back to my starter. Tartine waxes poetic about cultivating yeast, starters, levains, leavens, etc. The book made me feel that by cultivating my own starter I would be in touch with the tides of the ocean or phases of the moon. REAL old school. Like before they had schools. This is the bread I wanted to make.

So I kicked my starter back to life, bought a turquoise kitchen scale, pastry scrapper, and clear container (for dough rising), and was very excited this weekend to put it all together.

Getting excited about stuff like this makes people question my sanity.

The night before I was going to bake, I prepared my leaven:

To prepare the leaven, in a bowl mix:

1 tablespoon of sourdough starter
200g water
200g mixture of all-purpose and whole wheat flour

Cover this with a kitchen towel and let it hang out over night to froth and bubble to its yeasty hearts content.

* Note: I performed this task after returning from The Mulberry Project and imbibing some very creative gin-based beverages…review forthcoming.

In the morning (after I rehydrate myself):

Gather the following ingredients:

1. Pour the 700g water into a large mixing bowl and add 200g of leaven. Stir it up!
Note: Tartine suggests that your leaven is ready for baking when a spoonful of it will float in water. Unfortunately, I forgot about this test…

2. Add the 900g of white flour and 100g of whole wheat flour and mix well.

3. Now let the dough have a nap for 25-40 minutes. DON’T skip the dough nap. Have one yourself.

After the dough nap, add the 20g salt and 50g water. Mix the dough by squeeeeeeezing it with your hands and folding it on top of itself. Transfer the squeezed and salted dough to a clear container for the (read with echo): BULK FERMENTATION RISE at 78-82 degrees for about 3-4 hours.

During the Bulk Fermentation rise, you need to “turn” the dough every half hour. This turning involves you plunging your hand in the plastic container, scooping the bottom part of the dough and folding it onto the top part. Do this 2-3 time for one “turn.”

It was during this Bulk Fermentation that I realized my dough wasn’t rising quickly enough. You can extend the rise for as long as necessary, and dough will rise more slowly in colder temperatures.

I suspected that my cold and drafty apartment was the reason for the slow rise. Being on the first floor, I have the distinct pleasure of heating the apartments above me in the winter time. This causes me to jack up the thermostat and receive love notes from our local gas/electric provider, PSE&G. I reasoned that if I moved the dough to a warmer, less drafty spot, it would rise faster. So I put it in the warmest room in my apartment: the bathroom.

Now, don’t freak out: I haven’t fed anyone other than myself this bathroom bread. And it just sat on the sink counter, not on the toilet or anything. And it was in a container. I needed to protect the dough, people!

Anyway, after this Bulk Fermentation is finished (keep in mind I wasn’t sure if mine had risen appropriately), remove it from the container (a plastic pastry scraper helps with this), and divide the dough in half.

Once it’s divided, fold each dough portion onto itself to create a nice, round loafy-shape. Use as little flour (for dusting or non-stick purposes) as possible as you don’t want your bread to be dry. Let the dough rest for about 20 minutes. You can cover it was plastic wrap if your kitchen (or bathroom) is drafty.

At this point, they are ready for the final rise. Prepare two large bowls lined with kitchen towels (not terry cloth). Dust the towels with rice flour. Tartine does not explain why they use rice flour for this purpose, and I certainly have no clue. But I bought some like a good instruction-follower and used it.

This is the FINAL RISE. You can let these dough balls hang out at room temperature for about 3-4 hours OR you can put them somewhere cooler (like the refrigerator) for up to 12 hours. The choice is yours. I chose the fridge, as I had stuff to do.

Before you start baking, place a dutch oven/cast iron pot in your oven and turn up the heat 500 degrees. Let it heat up for 20-30 minutes. Once the pot is nice and hot, remove it from the oven (OVEN MITTS!!) and plop your dough in there.

You then need to score, or cut, the dough in a nice square pattern as seen above so that it can properly ventilate as it cooks. You are supposed to use a razor blade to accomplish this. but I didn’t have one so I used an Exacto Blade. Not very effective. Then, throw the lid back on and pop it back in the oven (reduce the heat to 450 degrees) and bake for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes has transpired, don your mitts again and remove the lid from the cast iron pot. Continue baking without the lid for another 20-30 minutes or until the crust gets a nice dark and golden brown.

Remove your bread from the oven and also from the pot and let it cool…if you can. Jack up the heat of the oven to 500 degrees again and repeat the process for the second loaf.

I cut right into mine, but even before I did I realized my bread was…well, it was FLAT. I just didn’t get the rise out of it that I wanted. Perhaps if I told it some jokes? It’s supposed to be much higher and puffier, etc. This is how tall it is:

The good news is that it’s tasty and somewhat airy (check out those nice holes toward the top). The bad news is that it’s not very pretty and still a bit dense (no comments from the peanut gallery, please).

Some of you may want to blame the bathroom, but I don’t think that’s the problem here. I think I didn’t allow enough time for my leaven to reach peak activity. Remember, I didn’t do the “float test”?  Next time, I will perform this test. And then maybe I can skip the bathroom fermentation altogether…


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Bread. I love it. To me, it’s carbohydrate in its most fantastic form. White, wheat, rye, sourdough, walnut-cranberry oat, baguettes, rolls, brioche and, yes, pizza dough.

I love the way it smells when it’s cooking. And even when it’s just rising, sitting there on my kitchen table with some random dish towel thrown over it (bread likes to be tucked in like a little kid in bed).

Recently I’ve been doing some reading up on bread making. You all might have suggestions of other things I could be doing with my time. Anyway, it was from this reading that I first heard the term “levain”. According to Wikipedia, levain is a type of pre-ferment which is made in two fermentation steps from an active sourdough-starter culture, flour and water. It yields a rather dry and porous dough which may be kept refrigerated for up to a week.

Basically, you start growing a yeast naturally, instead of using one of those pre-packaged yeasts, with just flour and water. Then it grows (like a Chia-Pet I imagine) and you use this chia-goop to make bread. The best part is that you can keep it indefinitely as long as you keep it alive by feeding it! It’s like a pet! And even though I already have Toby, I imagine he won’t mind a yeasty addition to our apartment that we can keep in the fridge.

Supposedly, it makes a better tasting bread than using a regular yeast package. A better tasting bread that I could potentially make a superior PIZZA DOUGH with. And annihilate the competition at the next PIZZ-OFF! Did I just say that out loud?

Sometimes I forget to use my inside voice.

So here we go. I am opening up the Laboratorio Semi Moderno for levain! For Science! For pizza dough! And I am going to document the whole thing, and give you updates. For example: Day 15: The yeasty blob has oozed all over the fridge and taken the carrots hostage. It’s now threatening the butter. Please send reinforcements. And pizza toppings.

I also plan on naming the levain. I was thinking of “Ferdinand” but I am open to suggestions.

To begin, the instructions are simple. You will need 1 cup of flour:

Plus, 1 cup of warm water:

Then, you combine them in a container (I used a candy-cane festooned tupperware that I apprehended leftovers in from my friend Stacey):

Mix all that madness up and you will get a goo (like the topmost photo). Cover this magical goo with the lid and let it sit on your counter.

Every 24 hours you need to feed your Chia-Goo. This is very important. To do this, you dump out HALF the goo, and mix in another 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water. Why? I just don’t know, but this is what everyone tells me to do, and I’m just going to do it without question.

After a week of feeding it every 24 hours and keeping it on the counter top (temperatures between 70-80 degrees are best. 100 degrees is too hot for your Chia-Goo), you can move it into the fridge and only feed it once every week.

So that’s what’s going on right now in the Laboratorio. Exciting place, no? I thought so. Updates will follow!

If anyone wants to play along in this levain making madness, please feel free. And send me updates. Or cries of distress. I respond to either.

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I’m really into butter these days. Let me clarify (haha – did anyone get that joke??): Real butter. Real butter made by local farmers and then infused with awesome flavors like cinnamon and garlic. That was kind of specific, wasn’t it?

I work near the Union Square Green Market, and I often escape from my desk to take a stroll among the fantastic food stalls the market has to offer. On one particular occasion, I was on the lookout for real butter. So, I strolled up to the Ronnybrook Farm stand and bought two intriguing flavored butters: Cinnamon Toast and Garlic Herb.

Lately, I’ve also started to become more aware of what “extras” are going into my food – particularly where animal products are concerned. Now, I am not the most informed on this topic, I’m just learning. But I do know that Ronnybrook’s dairy products are non-homogenized, do not contain artificial growth hormones, and their cows are grass fed and free-range. This appeals to me.

So did their butter. So much so, that I decided to create a recipe specifically for their Cinnamon Toast flavor.

I give you Cinnamon Toast Butter Twists (a lá Ronnybrook). These twists are surprising easy to make, would be a great addition to a holiday brunch, and are even good after they’ve been sitting in the fridge for about 5 days…

This recipe also falls under the category “Things to do with pizza dough other than make pizza.” It’s a surprisingly useful dough.

Here is how it all goes down:

What You Need:

1 recipe pizza dough (located here. Substitute 1/2 the regular flour with whole wheat flour – it gives these twists a nice texture).

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 Tablespoon cinnamon

3 Tablespoons granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Generous dollops of Ronnybrook Cinnamon Toast butter

What To Do:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Stretch out your dough into a large rectangle on a lightly floured cookie sheet. Cut the dough into long strips about an inch or inch and a half wide.

Dot the dough strips with Cinnamon Toast butter.

In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Sprinkle the buttered dough with this sugar and spice mixture, and top with the chopped pecans.

Fold the dough over the topping and twist! Once the twists are twisted, you can sprinkle them with any remaining sugar and spice mixture. Pop them in the oven and bake for about 10-15 minutes. Keep an eye on them, as you don’t want them to burn. They should look lightly toasted.

Remove from the oven and dust with confectioner’s sugar. Serve!

* Note: for the Garlic and Herb flavored butter, I would make the twists using parmesan cheese and some fresh rosemary…

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I’m assuming you’re all swimming in sweet bacon, having made it over the weekend on our suggestion. If you’re not, I’m hoping you’ve eaten it all.

What to do with alllllll that extra sweet bacon (if I had a nickel for every time I’ve said this….)?

When life gives you extra sweet bacon, you say “thank you!” and then you make maple bacon scones!

Here is the recipe:


*Note: this recipe is modified from Epicurious. I added the bacon.

3 cups all purpose flour
4 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup (or more) plus 6 tablespoons whipping cream
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
your fabulous 12 strips of sweet bacon (already cooked) that you’ve cut into little pieces.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Whisk flour, 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl to blend.

Add butter and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal.

Stir 1/2 cup whipping cream and 1/2 cup maple syrup in small bowl to blend.

Gradually add cream mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until dough comes together and adding more cream by tablespoonfuls if dough is dry.

Add in the bacon pieces and mix until incorporated.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead dough gently until smooth, about 5 turns. Using floured hands, pat out dough to 8-inch round; cut dough into 8 wedges. Transfer wedges to baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart.

Bake scones until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool.

I brought these babies to work to feed the animals there, and they were promptly gobbled up. I did get one suggestion for adding more bacon, and I really couldn’t argue with it. I generally think more bacon is a good idea, but I will leave it up to your judgment as to how much bacon you would like to add.

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As we are continuing our SUMMER BLOW-OUT WEEK (Hot!! Humid!!! You get the idea…), we have another LBI mini-review: the Bagel Shack.

I love bread. And bread in bagel-form is one of my favorites (right under pizza-form). Finding a good bagel is tough. Some argue that New York has the best bagels around. Something about the water….I dunno. I’m not here to dispute that claim. I’m just here to say that the bagels at the Shack are daaaaaaamn good.

A few words about them:

Fluffy insides….crispy crust (with those little bubbles that show they’ve been boiled)….puffy shape….

I believe the Shack opens around 6am. And that is when the line starts to form. But it’s also when the bagels are served hot. And you can smell the bread baking….and if you can wait till you get home to eat them, you have more self control than I do.

In addition to their regular bagel flavors, they have something called THE FRENCH TOAST BAGEL (I would put neon flashing lights around that name, but wordpress doesn’t allow me to). Get this bagel.

I ate my whole wheat version with a plum, fig & lavender jam that I made myself. Cuz I’m crazy like that. Who wants the recipe? C’mon, I know you do….

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