There are few virtues a man can possess more erotic than culinary skill.
Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses
by Isabel Allende

Starting in November of 2009 Michelle at the Big Black Dog formed a group to bake its way through Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg. I loved Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, so I signed up with the group. Michelle first had us do a couple of warm-up assignments, which were my first attempt at blogging. The first "Official" post was on January 15, 2010, and it was followed by 41 more, on the 1st and 15th of each month. When I signed on I said I would bake the whole book, and like Horton (the elephant) I meant what I said and I said what I meant. I finished baking the book on October 1, 2011. Having completed that challenge, now I am just going to do some stuff, and post about it. As part of that stuff Michelle is posing a new, and different, challenge for us each month.

I am still baking bread, mostly the Five Minutes a Day kind, and if you would like to try the Five Minutes a Day bread method there are some links, with recipes, in the right hand column to get you started. Please give it a try.

But first, a word from my sponsor . . .
Depending on to whom you listen, however, our standard of living, may, or may not, be threatened by climate change--global warming. Though scary, it is hard to sift through all the shouting and conflicting information to figure out who is right on this issue.
One person, Greg Craven, has suggested changing the question from "which side is right" to "what is the wisest thing to do given the uncertainties and the risks involved?" To me, this seems like a very productive way to refocus the conversation. So, if you are confused about, concerned by, or interested in the issue of global warming please take a few minutes to watch his VIDEO. If you find it interesting or helpful, please pass it on to others.

This day be bread and peace my lot.
Alexander Pope

How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?

Julia Child

Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough but not baked in the same oven.
Yiddish proverb
(And some are only half baked.)

There is no love sincerer than the love of food.
George Bernard Shaw, via Sharon

Of all smells, bread; of all tastes, salt.
George Herbert

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Four-leaf Clover Broccoli and Cheddar Buns, Mesquite Bread, and a Diet of Worms (14 of 42)

Several of the other posters in our Bread Braid have discussed their pets.  Michelle, obviously, has her Big Black Dogs.  Elwood has his bees and rabbits (here is a recipe, Elwood, for Honey Roast Rabbit).  Clarice has Harry.  So Zoe(y) and I thought we would share our worms with you.  Worms you may ask?  Of course.  You all remember Bullwinkle buying the Lazy Jay Ranch with its herd of worms and having to drive the herd by pounding on the ground with sticks.  And Wikipedia even has a List of Fictional Worms.  And worms make great pets.

Now we do not have just any old worms, we have Red Wigglers.  And we all know from the jingle on WKRP in Cincinnati what Red Wigglers are-- Red Wigglers, the Cadillac of Worms
Here is a picture of my worms.
Aren't they cute?
And useful, too.
They take this (kitchen scraps)
and turn it into this (vermicast, aka worm castings, aka compost).
And this is where they do it, their Worm Factory.

The spigot in the front even lets you draw off the leachate for compost tea.  There is one down side--fruit flies.  But you just need to keep the factory where that does not matter.  Also, I learned that hard way not to put melon seeds in the factory,  unless you want volunteer  melon plants wherever you spread your compost. 

So how do my worms relate to this episode of the Braid, you may ask?  Because I used the vermicast from my worms to feed my Jalapeno Peppers and Cilantro (variety Caribe) which  I used  in the Mesquite Bread.  So if we are what we eat, my peeps and I are worm poop (I have been called worse). Also, Mesquite Bread has a western flavor, like Bullwinkle's Lazy Jay Ranch.  

I was not sure what to expect from the mesquite flour, which is obtained by milling the seeds and the pods of the mesquite plant.   I got my flour from Casa de Fruta, though there are other sources.  What astounded me was the smell of the flour.   I have used mesquite for smoking in my Old Smokey Electric Smoker,  which I just love, and I guess I expected the flour to be resinous.   Instead, it smelled terrific, to me sort of like hot chocolate.  The folks at Casa de Fruta describe it as "similar to mocha coffee, cinnamon and chocolate" and note that "[w]hen the flour is heated in the oven, alone or in mixtures, a pleasant aroma appears that is somewhat similar to coconut."

 Anyway, it was fun to use mesquite flour, and the bread turned out great.

I had some dough left over after making the required loaf, and so I made a flatbread on the grill.  I divided the dough in half, rolled each half thin, sprinkled some mozzarella on one half, topped it with the other half of the dough and rolled them together.  Then I threw it on the grill for about 4 minutes per side.  (Judy noted in our Discussion Group that she does not understand why people would want to grill outside when it is almost 100 degrees.  The trick, however, is not to live somewhere that it so damned hot!)  If you have the grill going for something else the bread cooks in no time, and has a nice grilled flavor.  This bread was great, and would be even better with some pepperjack cheese.

The other bread for this assignment was Broccoli and Cheddar Buns.  (Note that the gluten amount given in the recipe is an error, it is 1/4 cup for the full recipe.  There is a list of errors on the HB in 5 site.)  These were a big hit.

The first step is to chop the broccoli.   I think that it is essential to the success of the recipe that you do this while singing Dana Carvey's   "Choppin' Broccoli" song.

To make the buns, you treat them like cloverleaf rolls--form the dough into 4 small balls and put them in muffin tins that have been sprayed with cooking spray.  Just before baking you top each roll with shredded cheese.   I again used Cabot 50% Cheddar, which was named Best Low Fat Cheese by Prevention Magazine, was pronounced the one they liked the best by Cooking Light Magazine, and was a Recommended low fat cheese by Cooks Illustrated.  In keeping with the "healthy" theme, I also cut down on  the amount of cheese called for, but I still think there was plenty. 

Every one of my tasters thought these were very good, though none identified the broccoli without a hint or two. 

Since I had some dough left over, I decided to use a similar technique and make monkey bread in my new  Monkey Bread Pot.  Instead of cheddar I worked some Parmigiano-Reggiano into the dough and formed it into balls.  Instead of rolling them in butter  I sprayed them lightly with canola spray.  This worked just as well,  and the Monkey bread was terrific, if I do say so myself.  

One final tip.  I was having trouble figuring out how best to store my dough scrapers to keep them handy without having to sort through a junk utensil drawer with doughy hands.  I got a small letter sorter, and keep it on the countertop where I do my rolling and forming. 

So that's it for this time.  Be sure to check up on what everyone else did with this assignment at Big Black Dog, and tune in again next time.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Gluten-free Cheddar and Sesame Bread (13 of 42)

In this installment we again try gluten-free baking.  For this bread I used egg substitute, Cabot 50% Reduced Fat Cheddar, and toasted sesame seeds.  When I mixed up the dough  the consistency seemed pretty good.  It actually seemed a bit more stiff than the usual dough.  Since my last gluten-free loaf had been too wet, I thought I was making progress.  But then after it rose the dough was beyond wet, it was soupy.  I decided to see what chilling it overnight would do, and it got a bit better, but it was still pourable rather than kneadable.

 The first labor was to make a loaf in a pan.  Instead of working in more flour, as I had with the previous gluten-free bread, I just poured it into the bread pan and let it rise.   It rose well.  When I baked it I did not use water in the broiler pan, I had enough "wet" already.   I baked it longer than called for, since it was so wet and since I had used more of the dough batter than called for since I had quite a bit.  The bread had pretty good oven spring.  Despite the consistency of the dough this bread turned out surprisingly well!  It was really very tasty, but then with all the cheese and sesame seeds it would be hard not to be tasty.  And it had a decent crumb.

I am not sure where I went wrong, although Michelle wrote in our Discussion Group  that she had the same issues,  so at least I was not alone.  I did not weigh the ingredients as I usually do, because I did not want to take the time to track down the conversions for all the different flours.  I did feel that some of the flours were harder to accurately measure since they were so fine and I was not sure whether to pack or sift.  I am looking forward to seeing how everyone else did with this dough.

Next we were to use the same dough for bread sticks.  I was not sure how I was am going to get this soup into bread sticks.  I decided to just work in some extra brown rice flour (not used in the recipe but I had quite a bit of it)  but not to add more of the other ingredients.  I pulled poured out an orange sized piece and worked 1/4 cup of flour into it.  That helped, but I had to work almost another 1/4 cup in before I could roll it well.

I rolled it out (since no one eating it needed it to be gluten-free I used AP flour to dust the board and rolling pin, to conserve the more expensive flours), cut it with a pizza cutter and arranged it on my silicone mat. Note the ones with the decorative twists!

I sprayed the bread sticks  with olive oil,  sprinkled with salt and Parmigiano Reggiano, then let them rest a few minutes (to recover from all that kneading in of extra flour) before baking for 15 minutes.  Despite my concerns, they turned out great.

 Since I had some dough batter left, I made another loaf, just pouring it into the pan.  I thought this bread was very tasty, and I am really hoping some of the other bakers adapted this recipe to a non-gluten-free-whole-wheat version that I can try.

On an unrelated note, as you all know from the previous post, we spent the last episode on location, in Maine, where they have top-loading hot dog (or lobster roll) buns.  Several years ago I had gotten a pan to make these from King Arthur Flour, but had only tried to make them once.  On the drive home it occurred to me to try making them with HB in 5 dough.

I followed the instructions at Hot DOG! This bun pan does double duty but used the Soft Whole Wheat Sandwich dough.  I filled the pan about 1/2 full (a tad less would have been fine).  After letting it rise, I put Reynolds Wrap® Non-Stick Foil over the top (instead of greasing the bottom of the cookie sheet as suggested), covered it with a cookie sheet, and weighted it with my Souse Pan.  (According to Wikipedia Souse is a head cheese pickled with vinegar.  Head cheese is not really cheese but is "a meat jelly made with flesh from the head of a calf or pig (sometimes a sheep or cow) in aspic."  ( I have never made, or eaten, head cheese.  But I like my pan, which I have had for years, and you never know ...)).

 I baked them covered for 18 minutes, then uncovered for a few, as suggested.  At that point they were not browned enough, so I baked them about 10 minutes longer. (Next time I will try 18 and 18.) 
The buns turned out very well.  I turned them out of the pan, sliced them most but not all the way through, cut them apart, buttered and grilled the sides, and used them for Chicken Sausages.

That concludes this fortnight's lesson. Next time it's Four-leaf Clover Broccoli and Cheddar Buns and  Mesquite Bread.  Be sure follow the links at Big Black Dog to see how everyone else fared with this assignment.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Banana Bread Revisited

Several of the bakers last time, myself included, thought that the banana flavor in the Whole Wheat Banana Bread as a bit subdued.  Interestingly, the most recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated had a recipe aimed at addressing the same issue in banana quick breads.  Their solution was (duh) to use more bananas.  When I made the half recipe for the last post, which called for 1 cup of mashed bananas, I used 2 large bananas, which came out to be a bit more than 1 cup.  Cook's used 6 (six) bananas per loaf! (5 in the dough and one sliced on top.)  Their trick, in addition to being sure to use ripe bananas, was to cook the bananas in the microwave for 5 minutes to get them to extrude their juice, and then drain the bananas in a sieve over a bowl for 15 minutes.  Alternatively, Cook's says you can use defrosted frozen bananas (freezing is a great way to save ripe bananas for baking or smoothies, just peel before freezing, trust me) since they will also extrude their juice, just be sure to save the juice as you defrost them.

Cook's then reduced the juice on the stove so as to not make their batter too wet.  I did this, but I am not sure it was necessary for the way I used the juice.  The half recipe called for 3/4 cup of water, so I put the reduced juice in the measuring cup and added water to get 3/4 cup.  So I boiled off the water and then added it back.  Reminds me of the two boys (girls are smarter than this) walking home from school one spring afternoon when the came across a puddle full of frogs.  The first boy said "bet you $5 you won't eat one of those frogs."  Not able to turn down a dare, the second boy ate a frog and got $5.  The first boy observed that he could not believe his friend had actually eaten the frog.  This prompted the second boy to say "bet you $5 you won't eat one of those frogs."  Again, faced with a dare, the first boy ate a frog, and got his $5 back.  The boys continued on, and as they reached home the first one asked the second "why did we eat the frogs?"

After draining  the 5 cooked bananas I measured them, and had about a cup, which is what the recipe called for, so I left that alone.  Other than that, and adding some extra cinnamon and walnuts, I made the half recipe as before.  I baked the entire batch, using a slightly larger loaf pan.  Being in for a penny, I went in for the pound and added a sliced banana on top.

The verdict?
I did  not notice any difference from the batch with two bananas.  My saintly wife and not only perfect but red-haired daughter thought it tasted a bit more of banana, but not much. But with three times the number of bananas there should have been a big difference.   Which makes me wonder if the whole grain is either muting or overpowering the fruit flavor.  That is what Michelle speculated when she was disappointed with her Cherry Bread.

Well, since there there is no such thing as failure, only feedback, I  thought I would share my experiment. 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Breads Banana, Berry, and Monkey (12 of 42)

Hemingway wrote that Paris was a moveable feast.  For us, and for this episode of the HB in 5 Bread Braid at least, so is Maine.  For the last several years we have been fortunate enough to be able to spend a little time each summer in a beautiful century cottage on Bailey Island, Maine.  This year our stay coincided with this eposide of the HB in 5 Bread Braid, so Maine is where I baked.
Here is the view from the kitchen window!

And here are some other views around the Island.  

Our trip from the North Coast to the East Coast (we are not "Down East," that does not start until you cross to the eastern side of the Penobscott River) took us (briefly) through New Hampshire.  We stopped at the New Hampshire's Own gift shop on I-95 (for those interested, conveniently located next to the NH (tax free) Liquor Store--we were on vacation).  And there they had this great little Monkey Bread Pot.  Little is the key word, since it has an inside diameter of just under 5".  By comparison, King Arthur has a 10" Monkey Bread Pan, which is lots of monkey bread.  With this small pot I was able to bake a batch of monkey bread good for 2-3 people by filling it about half-way, but I could fill it completely and get maybe 4-5 modest servings out of it.  The pot comes with directions, which I followed, but I used dough from the Whole Wheat Master Recipe.  I rolled balls of dough  in some melted butter, then in a sugar/cinnamon mixture, layered them in the pot and let them rise for about an hour.  I baked it at 375 for 30 minutes, the second half tented with foil as the directions suggested.  It was great.

And since monkeys love bananas, the monkey bread was a nice segue into the first bread of this assignment--Whole Wheat Banana Bread.

Speaking of monkeys and bananas, I read that monkeys do not peel their bananas from the stem end, as most of us human primates do.  Instead they peel from the other end.  It is in fact easier to get the peel started from that end. Need proof?  See The Proper Way to Peel a Banana.  Try it.

Also, speaking of bananas, some scientists think that the bananas we know and love are in danger of extinction.  See, for example, Yes, We Will Have No Bananas.  The bananas we eat, the Cavendish variety, are sterile and seedless. Wild bananas have large hard seeds, making them virtually inedible.  Since our bananas are sterile, all the commercial banana trees are reproduced from cuttings, making them genetically the same, clones.  Lacking genetic diversity these bananas are susceptible to being wiped out by disease.  Sound far fetched?  It has happened before! Everyone used to eat a variety called Gros Michel, a variety considered much more tasty than the Cavendish.  Starting in the early 1900's, however, the Gros Michel banana trees were stricken by a blight called Panama Disease.  By 1960 the Gros Michel variety was virtually wiped out.  The Cavendish, formerly considered a "junk" banana, was resistant to the blight, and so took its place by default.  But over the last decade a new strain of Panama Disease has begun spreading, and  the Cavendish is not immune.  As of now there is no resistant successor strain on the horizon, and it is very time consuming, and expensive, to develop new strains since the fruit is sterile.  So it is a good thing this bread got on the schedule now, and we better enjoy this banana bread while we can.  As a final note on primates and bananas  and baking, 96% of human DNA is the same as Chimp DNA, chimps being our closest living relatives, but we also share 50% of our DNA with the banana and 15% of our DNA with bakers yeast!   

I pretty much followed the recipe for Whole Wheat Banana Bread, perhaps adding a bit more banana than called for.  I also accidentally added more cinnamon and nuts, forgetting for a moment that I was making only a half recipe.  Then again, as Freud noted, "Accidents do not exist. They are created subconsciously.”   Because I wanted to have the bread for breakfast for my saintly wife and our three daughters, Katie, Becca, and Marissa, I formed it the night before, put it in this nice ceramic  baker, covered it, and put it in the fridge overnight to rise--a method suggested in HB in 5.  It did rise, but I am not sure it got as good a rise as if I had done it the normal way.  Some time I may make the same bread both ways to do a proper comparison.  I let the loaf warm up on the counter while the oven pre-heated, then baked it.  Because I used the entire half recipe it took a bit longer to bake.

It baked up nicely, though I thought the banana flavor a bit more subdued than I expected.  My peeps ate it real well, however.

The other assignment for this episode was the Whole Wheat Mixed Berry Bread.  Being in Maine, instead of mixed berries, which I have used before to make this bread and enjoyed very much, I used all wild Maine blueberries. I used frozen berries becasue not only is that what the recipe calls for but also because wild blueberries are not in season here until August.   (Strawberries, on the other hand, were in season, and we ate those like it was our job.)  
I  made a half recipe of the dough, and put the whole thing into the baker to rise, using a normal rise.  Rise it did, too.  In fact, when I baked it it tried to climb right out of the pan.  

We ate it with lobster, of course. 

So that concludes our Destination Bread Braid.  Be sure to check back next time when we go Gluten-free.