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, February 15, 2011

Whole Grain Rye (27 of 42)

First, a plug.  The great Backyard Bird Count starts this Friday, February 18th, and runs through the 21st.  It is fun and easy.  You can do as much or as little as you want.  All you need to do is count birds at one location, your backyard feeder for example, for a minimum of 15 minutes on one of the days of the count and submit your information.  Check out the GBBC website for details.

With this assignment we are  back to rye.  In 2010, researchers in Lund, Sweden published research that shows that even light rye flour (without the bran) is good for your blood sugar levels. The bran also contains important minerals and vitamins.

As I discovered in my earlier post on rye, rye grows in conditions where wheat does not do well.  (According to "It grows in poor, sandy soil and under mixed weather conditions, while wheat grows best in a warm dry climate, so despite poorer yields than wheat, it was grain of choice in colder areas.")  In such areas 100% rye bread was common, but now most rye is "lightened" with wheat flour, in part because rye has a distinctive taste that can be too strong.    Well, since we were baking rye I decided to bake a 100% rye loaf to check it out.  I used the 100% Whole Wheat Plain and Simple recipe from HB in 5, but substituted rye flour that I ground myself.  That was it.  I did not even add caraway, so we could see what the rye tasted like unadulterated.   I only made a quarter batch, enough for 1 loaf. 

The loaf was a bit dense, and certainly had a distinctive taste, but we enjoyed it.  We tried to come up with a description of the taste, (impudent, with a musty, earthy insouciance) but failed.  Practically Edible describes it as a "heady, slightly sour taste."  World's Healthiest Foods notes "Rye has a very hardy, deep, nourishing taste."  (The site also notes that "Rye Can Ease Your Ride Through Menopause While Helping Prevent Breast Cancer.") 

In doing some follow-up research I found at  that "Rye flour can be tricky to work with because sugars (carbohydrates) called pentoses (xylose, arabinose) reduce the ability of the gluten proteins to form stretchy, hollow areas which help trap the gas in bread, but are themselves responsible for trapping water and building the crumb "scaffold". Starches in the flour help this scaffolding hold together and create a bread that does not crumble.   However, since these starches can be cut into many smaller pieces by alpha amylases (a type of enzyme) which would reduce their ability to interact with the pentoses, a low pH is used (sourdough) to inhibit the amylase.  All these interactions make the crumb of rye bread denser than that of wheat bread. Often, rye is used together with wheat flour to make what the Germans call 'Mischbrot'."  The article summarized "As the amount of rye flour in a bread increases, the longer the bread stays fresh and the stronger it tastes of rye. The more wheat flour, the higher the bread rises and the 'milder' it tastes."  Well, there you go.

The Whole Grain Rye used for this assignment includes roughly equal parts of rye flour, whole wheat flour, and AP flour.  As a result, it makes a lighter loaf, though with the whole grain rye and the whole wheat flour it is still plenty sturdy.  

The first part of this assignment was to bake a regular loaf of rye.  My loaf baked up nicely, with a good crumb.  We liked this bread a lot.  And it also makes great toast. 

The recipe called for adding caraway seeds to the dough, as well as sprinkling some on top before baking.  On an episode of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives one of the eateries baked their own rye bread and used ground caraway seed.  I got some at Penzeys, and used it here.  I think it gives a fuller, more uniform caraway flavor, but that could just be me.  

The other iteration of this assignment was to use the same dough to make a Stuffed “Sandwich” Loaf.  I followed the first of the several variations, using roasted red pepper, sauteed mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and goat cheese.  Since the peppers and the artichoke hearts were both kind of wet, I chopped them up and spun them in my salad spinner.  Then I rolled the dough to 1/4 inch, topped it with the vegetables and the goat cheese,
rolled it up jelly-roll style, and put it in a loaf pan to rise.
Perhaps as an homage to Super Bowl XXXVIII, during baking my loaf suffered a "wardrobe malfunction" (they do call it a gluten cloak). 
 Although this made slicing a bit of a challenge, it was otherwise not a problem. 
 This bread got mixed reviews.  My saintly wife and I liked it a lot.  The best one of our testers could manage, however, was "interesting."  I think that is a Chinese curse: may you eat interesting bread.  (Or maybe it is "may you live in interesting times.")  

One of the main reasons I made this version was that I had all the stuffing stuff on hand, but since this was a rye bread, the version with ham, cheese and cabbage sounded like it would be awesome.  I may give it a try and report next time.  But for this time, that is all.  Next time we are on to pumpernickel. 


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Gluten-free Crusty Boule and Gluten-free Cheddar and Sesame Crackers (26 of 42)

Well, not to drop names or anything, but one of the highpoints of this fortnight was when da Girlz and I had lunch with Iron Chef Michael Symon.  We met up at Lucky's Cafe in the Tremont area of Cleveland.  Lucky's is a great place with great food.  It has been featured on Diner's Drive-ins, and Dives.  Their Reuben is particularly special--they corn their own beef, make their own sauerkraut and sauce, and bake their own rye bread.  My saintly wife and I split a Reuben, and also split a Cuban sandwich, which was wonderful as well.  Our peeps split the Mac and Cheese, still being young enough to think their arteries are immortal.

And what can I say about Michael!  Well, actually, not much.  We did not exactly sit together.  Or talk.  But he was definitely THERE when we walked in.  He did leave right after we got there, but I am pretty sure he did not leave only because we came in.    Anyway, his aura certainly lingered with us during our lunch.  And really, that whole space/time continuum thing is  just a human construct to help us understand our place in the universe.  So, as I said, da Girlz and I had lunch with Iron Chef Michael Symon.

As for the assignment, we are back to baking gluten-free again.  It is not that we do not use flour, it is that we do not use wheat flour.  Instead, these breads use brown rice flour, sorghum flour, and tapioca flour.  As a stand-in for the gluten, we use a "gum," in my case guar gum because it was cheaper than the xanthan gum called for in the recipe.  Rather than making a whole batch, since we only had to make one loaf and some crackers, I made a half batch.  That is one of the (many) nice aspects of the AB/HB in 5 method, you can easily adjust the size of your batch to suit your needs. 

When I made gluten-free dough for previous assignments the dough was very wet, almost like a batter.  This dough was better, though still soft and sticky.  I mixed it, let it rise, and then refrigerated it overnight.  Next day, I formed the loaf, using wet hands instead of flour, and let it rise in my duct-tape couche.  I baked it in my cast iron pot, covered for 2/3 of the time, then uncovered.

I think it baked up pretty nicely.  There was a good crust, and a nice crumb.  As before, I noticed a sheen to the inside of the holes in the bread, perhaps due to the gum?  

The overall texture was different than wheat bread, softer or more tender, but not in a "Wonder Bread" kind of way, more dry rather than doughy.  Obviously, this texture difference was due to the lack of gluten.
All and all, this was one of my better efforts at baking gluten-free bread. 

As for the crackers, not so much.

The recipe called for rolling the dough out on a silicone mat to a thickness of 1/16 of an inch after covering the dough with plastic wrap to prevent sticking.  Did that.  Then we were to CAREFULLY score the dough with a pizza cutter (carefully so as to not cut the mat).  Did that.

 Then, we brushed it with water (I spritzed), sprinkled with sesame seeds (I used black sesame seeds), and baked it at 400 for 15 minutes.  Did that. 

 Well, rolling to an even 1/16th of an inch is easier said than done, as the picture attests.  I got a thinner area in the middle, which over-browned (burned) well before the rest was done.  And the score lines vanished.   Disappeared without a trace.  Without the scoring I just broke the sheet into free-form crackers, took off the overdone parts, and finished baking the rest.
Though my peeps ate all the free-form crackers, their free form lending a nice casual flair to the occasion,  was not happy with the results.

Now 1/16th of an inch is not very thick.  I wandered the house with my trusty caliper, measuring things. 

A thin bamboo skewer is twice that thick, about 1/8th of an inch.  So is the cardboard on a box from Amazon.  A compact  disc is about 1/16th of an inch.  And so, too, are two of those big rubber bands you get around celery and asparagus and broccoli. So I put some of those rubber bands on the ends of my rolling pin.  (Because I had to stretch them a bit to get them on, I used 3 on each side.)

Then I rolled away.  I used less dough, about half what was called for, to make it easier to work with.  The dough had gotten wetter as it sat, and that combined with the absence of gluten made it very easy to roll out.  I spread the dough on my silicone mat, covered it with plastic wrap, and rolled away.  It was slicker 'n snot!  It rolled out very evenly.
 I did not score the dough right then, I just sprinkled it with seeds and popped it into the oven for 5 minutes.  THEN I quickly ran my pizza cutter lightly over the dough to score it.  Then back in the oven to finish baking.   This worked much better--the scoring did not disappear since the dough had set a bit.

 The crackers baked very evenly, and turned out well.  The only change I would make would be to perhaps bake them a bit longer than I did, but I was a little gun-shy after the over-baked (burned) fiasco of my first effort.