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

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

100% Whole Wheat, Plain and Simple (16 of 42)

For this  assignment we were to make a full batch of the 100% Whole Wheat Plain and Simple dough.  It is a gift to be simple.  So I guess I am gifted.  This is not to be confused with ignorance being bliss, though if that is true I often wonder why there are not a whole lot more blissful people around.

As its name suggests, this dough is 100% whole wheat, and it is plain and simple--whole wheat, vital gluten, water, salt and yeast.  A nice benefit of baking your own bread is that you know exactly what is in it.   I like this dough a lot.

For the compulsory portion of this assignment we were to use this dough to make three variations.  Once again, this demonstrates the variety of ways you can use the same dough to make different breads.

First up was a plain and simple loaf.  As we know, since these doughs are fairly well hydrated (wet) they can like to spread as they rise.  Often I use 1x2s to help contain the dough so that it tends to rise more up than out.  Last blog I showed a picture of this with some baguettes and Clarice at Hearth Arts said that I had made my own couche.  As far as I know a couche is what I sit on to watch footballe, and I did not make mine, I bought it at the shoppe.  Anyway, I wanted this bread to be low and wide, so I formed it that way and let it spread to its heart's content. 

 I then sliced the loaf horizontally, added some lettuce, some home-smoked chicken breast, some grilled Capicola and a tomato from the garden.  It was wonderful. 

I used a Pine- apple tom- ato.  Isn't is pretty?  If you are interested in heirloom tomatoes you should check out The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table: Recipes, Portraits, and History of the World's Most Beautiful Fruit by Amy Goldman.  Not only are the pictures great, but she offers a description of each variety including her assessment of the flavor, its best uses, how well it grows, and its yield.  This is particularly helpful since seed catalogs tend to wax eloquent about all their products.  Also, re: tomatoes, Cooks Illustrated has concluded that tomatoes store better if stored stem scar down.  They noted "that the scar left on the tomato skin where the stem once grew provides both an escape for moisture and an entry point for mold and bacteria. Placing a tomato stem-end down blocks air from entering and moisture from exiting the scar."

Back to the issue of controlling dough spread, Ezzie at Brewing & Baking wrote about some of her techniques (and was kind enough to refer to my 1x2 approach).  These work fine for baguettes and other long or oval loaves.

Now, as a world premiere, and special lagniappe, or perhaps a mitzvah, for the HB in 5ers, I would like to offer what, in my humble opinion, is THE definitive approach to controlling the spread of a boule.  It is definitive for one simple reason--it uses DUCT TAPE! 
I wanted to make Mary Ann Esposito's Calabrian Pitta, and I needed a nice tall boule.

To corral the dough I made a strip of several layers of duct tape and used a paperclip to hold it in a circle of the diameter I wanted.  (It is adjustable!) 

Then, I lined the form with parchment paper, taking some time to carefully fold and fit the parchment paper so that there were no big wrinkles. 

I let the dough rise, removed the duct tape, and used the parchment paper to deposit the loaf, parchment paper and all, into a pre-heated Le Creuset Number 22 pot and baked it at 450 for 15 minutes with the lid on and 15 minutes with the lid off.  (Using the pot eliminates the need for a baking stone and water pan.)

I tried this pot while on vacation and liked it much better than my dutch ovens--it was smaller, more suited to the size of the boules, and the handle on the lid made it much easier to remove with pot holders, since the lid was very hot from pre-heating.  I found myself an old one on eBay, as you can see from the color.  As they say, no gear, no hobby.  The bread turned out beautifully, if I do say so myself. 

I holl- owed it out, spread on some of Al’s Giardiniera (Mary Ann's Olive salad would not have played well with some of my peeps) and then layered meats and cheese and another layer of the giardiniera.  Then I wrapped it and refrigerated it for several hours.
And now, for the big reveal--TA-DA!

My self-congratulatory tangent completed, its back to the second compulsory exercise with the 100% Whole Wheat Bread: Zucchini Flatbread.

OK. They call this a flatbread.  But to me if it looks like a pizza, walks like a pizza, swims like a pizza and quacks like a pizza, its a pizza. I pretty much followed the recipe except I added some leftover corn I cut off the cob and I used toasted slivered almonds instead of pine nuts. I also cut back a bit on the Parmigiano-Reggiano. And I used corn meal instead of flour to roll out the crust. I often do this with pizza crust, I saw it on an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. The corn meal gets worked into the crust and gives it a sturdy, chewy/crunchy texture. Also, since the weather was nice, I cooked it on the grill instead of in the oven. Other than that I followed the recipe exactly.

I rolled out the dough and threw it directly on the grate to grill the first side. Then I took it off the grill, flipped it grilled side up, topped it, and put it back on the grill to grill the bottom. It was very, very good.

The final compulsory exercise was Msemmen (Algerian Flatbread).  Since this did not have toppings, in my world it really was a flatbread not a pizza.  If you Google Msemmen (sometimes transliterated as M'semmen) most of the entries characterize it as Moroccan rather than Algerian.  The two are Saharan neighbors.  It appears that the Moroccan variety is often served with honey, so it is sweet, while the Algerian version is more savory, with spices.  Ours is the latter. If you would like to know how to pronounce Msemmen check out this video.
The first step is to make an oil/spice mixture.   Sir Isaac Newton said that "If I have been able to see further than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.So too, here.  In our discussion group Carolyn noted that she found the oil/spice mixture too runny and suggested adding the oil to the spices slowly, until it was spreadable.  Standing on her shoulders, that is what I did.

The spice mixture is spread on the rolled out dough.   The dough is then rolled up jelly-roll style and coiled around itself.  Then it, and you, rest for 5 minutes.   

Finally, the "coil" is rolled flat again, and cooked in in some oil in a large frying pan on the stove.  This made a very interesting and tasty bread.  I would think it would also be good cooked on the grill.

 I still had some dough left, so for the freestyle portion of the exercise I made a  Capicola Bread. 

I rolled out the dough, put on some Capicola and some mozzarella, rolled it up and let it rise (using my 1x2s).

Then I baked it, sliced it, and ate it (with a little help from my friends).  


That concludes this fortnight's adventure.  Tune in next time and be sure to check out what everyone else did with these breads at Big Black Dog.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Rosemary Flax Baguette and Vollkornbrot (15 of 42)

You know, sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.  (Or as Paul Valery somewhat more elegantly put it, "At times I think and at times I am."  Not to be confused with René Descartes' famous "Cognito ergo sum" ("I think, therefore I am."))  Well I was sitting and thinking the other day, thinking about what bread I was going to bake to have with dinner.  I had 2 or 3 different HB in 5 doughs sitting in the fridge and I was considering which one to use and how to use it--boule, grilled flatbread, focaccia, buns . . . .  And it struck me, that is the great thing about the AB/HB in 5 method.  I was not wondering whether to make freshly baked bread, but what kind of freshly baked bread I was going to make.  It is just so easy.  If you have not tried baking bread this way, please do.  

This particular assignment was a bit tricky to fit into our schedule since, in celebration of our 35th wedding anniversary, my saintly wife and I went on a Baltic cruise and they would not let me use the galley to bake my bread.

One of our stops was Gdansk, where they were holding the 750th St. Dominic's  Fair (which makes 35 years seem like not much of a big deal).

They had some pretty good looking bread on offer, but we did not have any spare zloties (or groszies) so we just looked.  (They also had bungee jumping, we just looked at that, too.) 

Something to aspire to.

The first task of this assignment was a Rosemary Flax Baguette.  I baked it for one of our Mag-7  dinner parties.  (As always, I ate too much, especially of Greta's hors d'oeuvres.)  I followed (to the best of my ability) the directions  for shaping baguettes posted at Judy's Bakery and Test Kitchen.   After using my gluten-free "batter" last time, it was nice to work with a dough of a more normal consistency. 

I don't think I did too bad a job forming the baguettes.  I put them on parchment paper to rise, and used my trusty 1x2s to keep them from spreading.   Once they had risen, I slashed them and decorated the slashes with rosemary sprigs. 

They baked up beautifully, and tasted great too.

I did not use all the dough for the baguettes,  so the next day I rolled out a piece and threw it directly onto the grill grates while I made some Grilled Potato Hobo Packs.  Both turned out very well.

I still had some dough left, so I decided to make a Pissaladiere.

Planning ahead, I had made some Baked Caramelized Onions, reducing 6 pounds of yellow onions to about 2 1/2 cups.   It took quite a bit longer than the recipe indicates.  Also, I do not think it is necessary to stir as often in the beginning as recommended, and I removed the lid about half way through because my onions were pretty juicy.  On the other hand, baking the onions was much less hands-on than doing it stove-top.  Fortunately, we have an "I cooked so you wash up"  rule (be SURE to spray the pot with cooking spray).

So, to make a Pissaladiere I rolled out the rest of the Rosemary Flax dough, grilled it on one side, flipped it over, topped it with the onions, which I warmed up in the microwave, some anchovies and Kalamata olives, and finished grilling it.  Took about 7 minutes, start to finish!

The next project was Vollkornbrot.  "Vollkorn" is German for whole meal or whole grain, "brot" is bread or loaf.  Jeff and Zoe translate it as "whole kernel bread."  It has wheat berries and rye flakes in it.  If you do not want to go to the trouble of baking this bread you can buy a loaf from Zingerman’s for $7.50, plus $12 shipping.

This loaf definitely lives up to its name.  It is dense, dark and heavy, all in a good way.  

 The only issue I had was that it seemed some of the wheat berries had not softened, though I let it rest plenty long.  I wonder if the crunchy ones might have been on the crust, and got dried out again in the oven.  My saintly wife liked the crunch.  We also thought this bread was particularly good toasted. 

So, neither jet lag nor airport security nor currency exchange rates nor distance from the kitchen kept me from the completion of fortnight's assignment.  Next time it is 100% Whole Wheat, Plain and Simple (kind of like me).  Be sure to check out what everyone else did with these breads at Big Black Dog.