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 . . .
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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

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Baking 5 Minute a Day Bread in a Wood-fired Earth Oven

There is a classic Tartar Sauce recipe, ostensibly from New Orleans in in 1879, the first step of which is to "Catch a young Tartar: for the old ones are very tough and devoid of juice."  So too, the first step in baking HB in 5 Bread in a Wood-fired Earth Oven is to build a Wood-fired Earth Oven

Some time ago I saw an article in Mother Earth News about making an Earth Oven.  The bit I saw referred to an earlier article, Build Your Own Wood-fired Earth Oven as well as a book, Build Your Own Earth Oven, 3rd Edition: A Low-Cost Wood-Fired Mud Oven; Simple Sourdough Bread; Perfect Loaves by Kiko Denzer and Hannah Field.   I got the book, and after cogitating for awhile, I decided to give it a try.

The book suggests building some trial, or experimental, ovens before setting out to make something more ambitious.  And the Mother Earth article is based on an earlier, less elaborate version.  The full-blown final version in the book is much better insulated, and more suited to frequent use for a wide range of cooking.  Since the full-blown version is relatively permanent, and sits on a waist-high platform, it needs a good foundation, which means digging down to the frost line, about 31/2 feet here.  That did not seem like too much fun, especially since it is in the 90's right now.  So I decided to begin with baby steps.  In this case that means first making  a small version, with an inside diameter of about 9 inches and an outside diameter of about 12 inches.  By comparison, the "standard" size oven in the book has an inside diameter of 22 inches. 

The earth for the earth oven is clayey subsoil, which we have in superabundance.  This is then mixed with sand, which makes a sort of concrete.
The base of the oven is bricks laid on a bed of sand. 
We (my Saintly Wife and I) then built a mound of wet sand, like a simple sand castle, on the bricks
Here you can see we added another brick at the back, for support. 
The final dome was almost as wide as the base, and a little taller than it was wide.

We then covered the dome with
wet newspaper, to form a separation from the walls of the oven.
Next, we started building, packing the sand/clay mix around the form.  It is important to press the clay firmly against itself, and not against the form, which might distort it.
After it had dried for a day I cut a door, which should be about 2/3 of the oven height.
Then, after another day of drying I removed the sand until I got to the newspaper. 
I then built a fire to dry it completely.   I had a little trouble keeping the fire burning, so I made the opening a bit taller.  This helped a lot, but I did get a bit of tear-out at the top of the door.
Here you can see the width of the walls.
   Once the oven was dry, it was time to try baking.  The book makes it clear that this is not really a functional oven--it is too small and thus lacks the necessary thermal mass.  The point of making it is to get a feel for the construction technique and the materials before trying a larger oven.  Still, I decided to give baking a try.  

I had about a half pound of Quinoa Bread dough left over, so I formed it into a boule and set it to rise.  Then I started a fire in my oven. 
 The way this oven works is that the fire gets both the bricks and the oven hot.  Once the oven is hot the coals are removed and the bread or pizza (or other food) is cooked on the bricks using the residual heat.  That is why thermal mass is so important.  I kept my fire going for about an hour, then let it burn down for about 15 minutes and pulled the coals out.   Here you can see my high-tech coal-puller, a strip of sheet metal, and my mini-peel, a spatula (it has to fit through the door, you know).
 Then I let the oven  rest for another 15 minutes to let the heat equalize, and popped in my risen loaf.  Since there was sand and ash on the oven floor I placed the loaf on a piece of foil.  I am not sure what the inside temperature of the oven was at this point, but the outside of the oven was too hot to touch (trust me).  My door is another piece of sheet metal, held in place by some urbanite.  
I was a little concerned that the bread might cook too fast, since the book notes that a pizza placed in a freshly fired full sized oven can cook in 3-4 minutes, but I needn't have worried.  My oven just did not have the thermal mass.  I checked it a 15 minutes, and it was baking, but slowly.  So I left it in for another 40 minutes, by which time it was done! 
The crust was not crispy by any means, the oven did not stay hot enough for long enough for that, but is was cooked and we had it for dinner.  

So, since this was a learning experiment, what did I learn?  
First that once we got to it the oven was pretty easy to make.  And fun.  I think I had too much sand in my mix, at least the finished building material seemed sandy to me, but it worked, and got hard once it was fired, and I got a bit of a feel for the material. 
And I learned the importance of door height to getting a good fire. 

So that is HB in 5 Bread Baked in a Wood-fired Earth Oven--Part 1.  
You will just have to wait and see whether there is a Part 2, which would involve making a full-sized oven, albeit one at ground level on a sand base rather than waist height on a foundation.

But I already have the bricks * * * . 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Herbed Potato and Roasted Garlic Bread and Red Wine and Cheese Bread (37 of 42)

Summertime.....and the living is easy.  Fish are jumping (in this case the invasive Asian Carp which are threatening the Great Lakes)

and the cotton is (or in my case, weeds are) high.

Summertime is also the time for farmers' markets, where you can get your organic veggies and heirloom tomatoes.  While heirloom tomatoes are a Big Thing right now, it is important to preserve the diversity of varieties in other vegetables.

While I was looking for directions on how to make a self-watering planter from 5 gallon buckets I came across this chart from National Geographic Food Ark, which demonstrates that  there has been a precipitous decline in the number of vegetable varieties that are available.  

The site notes that of the 66 crops surveyed about 93 percent of the varieties had gone extinct between 1903 and 1983.  "So what?" you ask.  Remember the potato famine?  One variety of potato, one fungus (phytophthora infestans).  Or the Great French Wine Blight which was caused by aphids.  And don't forget the current plight of the banana (see, for example, Yes, We Will Have No Bananas), of which there is only one variety commercially available--and it is currently being decimated by a blight.  More varieties means more genetic diversity and a greater possibility of resistant varieties.  If you are interested in growing some heirloom varieties of you own, check out the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange or the Seed Savers Exchange.   And the great thing is that by buying and growing a wider range of fruit and vegetable varieties you not only help preserve diversity, you get some good eats, too.

Speaking of good eats, both breads for this assignment ate pretty good.

The Red Wine and Cheese Bread did not have much whole wheat in it only a 1/2 cup in the half recipe I made (and 1/4 cup of rye--much less than a pocket full).  It did have 3/4 of a cup a red wine, which gave it a kind of rosy tint, and 1/2 cup of shredded sharp cheddar (I used a light sharp cheddar from Trader Joe's).  None of my tasters, including my Special Guest Taster, Hildy, really noticed the flavor of either the red wine or the cheese, but everyone thought the bread was pretty good.  When I told them that there was red wine and cheese  in the bread, they all decided that they could taste a subtle flavor of both--but then my group can be kind of suggestible--whenever they watch a medical program they are sure they have whatever disease or condition is featured on the show.
I baked my Red Wine and cheese Bread as a boule
and I think it came out right purty.

I used some of the remaining dough to make a Swiss chard and mushroom pizza on the grill, cooked directly on the grates.  We ate it before I thought to take its picture. It seems we must add Pizza to Time and Tide.

The second bread for this assignment was the Herbed Potato and Roasted Garlic Bread, which not surprisingly has herb[e]s (de Provence), potato, and roasted garlic.  It also has ground flaxseed.  The potatoes, interestingly, were not cooked, just diced and mixed into the dough.  Although I was making a half batch I used the full complement of garlic and herb[e]s.  I still did not get much, if any, flavor from the herb[e]s, but did get a nice roasted garlic hit. 
I decided to use the dough to make baguettes, using my perforated baguette pan.

With the chunks of potato, I thought this was a very interesting, and pretty tasty, bread. 

And finally, since I still had some of each dough, I mooshed them together and made a hybrid Herbed Red Wine with Cheese, Potato, and Roasted Garlic Bread.  
So that was about all I could do with the Herbed Potato and Roasted Garlic Bread and Red Wine and Cheese Bread.  We now have just 5 assignments to go. Enjoy the summertime, and hope to see you next time.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Gluten-free Brioche and “Super Sam” Gluten-free Cinnamon Buns (36 of 42)

It is July already. And this July is kind of special. This year, July has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays. This happens once every 823 years, so it is probably the only time most of us will get to enjoy 5 TGIFs in July.  Similarly, October this year, which will be the month we complete our HB in 5 Baking Sojourn, will have 5 Saturdays, 5 Sundays, 5 Mondays. This also happens every 823 years. Concluding our date topic, this year has four unusual dates: 1/1/11, 1/11/11, 11/1/11, 11/11/11; and that's not all... take the last two digits of the year in which you were born - now add the age you will be this year. The results will be 111 for everyone in whole world. (Thanks to Jenny Archer for this information.) 

This post is also the second annual installment of Destination Baking--once again we are in beautiful Bailey Island, Maine (our 10th year coming here).   We are having a wonderful time, but miss Marissa. 

We have enjoyed seeing wild turkeys and eating free-range lobsters. 

And if you are ever in the Mid-Coast Maine area, be sure to visit the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in Boothbay.  It is absolutely wonderful.

Now on to the baking.  In the interest of full disclosure, I baked the breads for this assignment at home before we left because it was easier to make the gluten-free dough there rather than schlep all the special ingredients to Maine.  But I did bake here.  I mixed up the dry ingredients for the Whole Wheat Master and the Quinoa Bread and brought them along in zip-lock bags.  Then when we got here I just needed to add water, mix, and let them rise. I used them to make boules, English muffins, focaccia, and sweet rolls. 
In the Quinoa Bread I used red quinoa from Trader Joe's, which showed up nicely both in the dough and in the finished bread. 

As for this assignment, it is our last assignment involving gluten free bread.  I made a half batch, since we were only making two breads.  While I sympathize with those who are gluten intolerant, I am glad I do not have to bake this way all the time.  I just never seem to be able to get the amount of ingredients quite right, whether I use volume or weight, although to some extent it may be that I am expecting the dough to feel more like dough with gluten.  "Not quite right" was certainly not the case with this dough, however.  I am not sure where I went wrong, but I must have been way off in my measurements.  I weighed the ingredients, and I wonder if one of my conversion factors was incorrect.  Judy over at Judy's Bakery and Test Kitchen posted on the discussion board that Jeff and Zoe had revised their weights for some of the ingredients, but I have not had the chance to check those against the weights I used.  Or maybe I just screwed up.  Whatever the cause, I ended up with a batter.  And a pretty thin one at that.  I worked extra flour into the dough (I used soy flour because I was low on the flours used in the recipe) until I thought it was about right, but it was purely by guess and by gosh. 
First up was a loaf of Gluten-free Brioche.  I used my brioche pan, and although the dough was sticky, much like a soft cookie dough, it was not hard to plop  it into the pan.  It baked up pretty well, and tasted good, especially toasted.  I have been trying to come up with a description of the texture.  It was sort of like a cross between a corn bread and a pound cake. 

The second part of the assignment was “Super Sam” Gluten-free Cinnamon Buns.  The buns were, as my peeps would say, a hot mess (especially right out of the oven). 
I knew I was in for trouble when the directions called for rolling the dough out on a silicone mat so that the mat could be used to help roll up the dough.  But at first things went pretty well.   I rolled the dough out using the silicone mat on the bottom and plastic wrap on the top--to prevent sticking. Then I topped it with brown sugar mixed with cinnamon and pecans.
I even managed to roll it up pretty well.  Then the hot mess.  The dough was very soft, perhaps because of my measuring issues.  And all that filling only made it worse.  It would not hold its shape as I tried to cut the rolled dough into slices.  So instead of nicely swirled buns, I ended up with amorphous blobs.  I kept waiting for Steve McQueen to show up.  ("It crawls.... It creeps.... It eats you alive!")
As you can see from the picture, my "buns" are even about the same color as The Blob--and they GREW too!!

 The two on the top, the last two I made, ALMOST look like buns, especially in the dark, without your glasses, if you squint, and have the light behind them.  (But then I look my best in those circumstances, too.)

So, instead of buns, I guess I made “Super Sam” Gluten-free Cinnamon Monkey Bread.
I topped it with the glaze and cut it into wedges to serve, having abandoned all pretense of buns. 
I must say it was wonderful, but then with all that sugar, cinnamon, pecans and glaze on top an old flip-flop would have tasted pretty good.

So that is it from Bailey Island, Maine.  We only have 6 episodes to go, so be sure to check in next time.