Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Rosemary Focaccia

It's hard to understand how I could have such fond memories of the biggest baking disaster of my life--this very same beautiful rosemary focaccia, the first bread I made from The Bread Bible, and one that almost led to the death of my nascent bread-baking hobby.

Those who have known me for a while know this story already, so feel free to skip through it.  I got The Bread Bible for Christmas in 2005 and decided I would bake all the recipes in a year.  I got a new KitchenAid mixer and started in.  You know the part of the recipe where it says it will take 20 minutes of steady beating to turn into dough?  Well, I mixed and mixed, and it never did.  After 40 minutes, I gave up, and stuck the runny mess into the oven, after which it became a mass of gummy cardboard.  I sent off an indignant email to Rose, never expecting to hear from her, but in less than a half hour, she sent me a kind email telling me that lots of people had trouble with this bread, but it really was fantastic if it worked.  Only after my second failed attempt, when a clever blog reader noticed a picture showing me using the dough hook instead of the paddle attachment did I realize that the fault was not in Rose's recipe, or even in the stars, but in me and my apparent inability to read.

The bread works when you use the paddle attachment.

In fact, it's really fun to make because it goes from this....

To this....  Look at that gluten developing!  You know it's going to work now.

To this....

This dough is so aesthetically pleasing, and so wonderfully tactile.  At some points you almost think it doesn't even matter how it turns out, because it's so fun to work with.

The dough rose with gusto the first time (it was in my proofer at 78 degrees).  The pan didn't fit in the proofer, so it rose - very slowly - in my cold kitchen for the second rise.  After a while, I decided it had been out long enough and I would rely on oven spring for the rest.

I dimpled it, tore off fresh rosemary leaves, and sprinkled Maldon sea salt all over.  Back in the day, I didn't have Maldon sea salt.  Don't you sometimes marvel at all the food that you use routinely now and had never heard of 20 or 30 years ago?  Maldon sea salt is one; actually, focaccia is another. Probably some of you young people never had to undergo a life without focaccia, but I did.  And I also walked 5 miles to school.

It took a little, but not much, longer than 13 minutes to reach a stage of golden brownness.  I wish I'd thought to poach the garlic and do that variation because it's delicious.  I also wish I'd used a bit more rosemary because it dried and shrunk in the oven.

Otherwise, I have no complaints.  As I look through the cookbook, I can't believe that I made every bread in the book in just one year.  But I'm glad we're going at a slower rate this time.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tartine Walnut Bread

This is my favorite Tartine bread so far, and, even though it requires the extra step of toasting the walnuts (and I added the step of scrubbing off the bitter walnut skins), it seemed the easiest.  First, I finally decided to cut the recipe in half.  Although it's still a lot of time invested for one loaf of bread, it's also easier not to bake one loaf, clean the pan, and bake another.  Second, I simplified the process by making my own abbreviated list of steps:

     [Night before:  make fresh leaven]

1.  Mix dough
2.  Rest
3.  Add salt and water.
4.  First rise:
     3+ hours
     4+ turns
5.  First shaping
6.  Bench rest
7.  Final shaping
8.  Line basket with flour mix.
9.  Final rise
10. Preheat oven and pan
11. Put dough in hot pan
12.  Score
13. Bake with lid
14. Bake without lid

I'd read through the walnut bread recipe once, and was actually able to make the bread by referring only to this list.  The only thing I couldn't remember was the oven temp, so I had to check that.  Otherwise, I just went by memory.  I forgot that the water was supposed to be heated to 80 degrees, and I also forgot how long the bread was supposed to bake with and without the lid (but I checked that when I checked the oven temp, so I guess I forgot two things, but I only had to check one time).

I've also decided to use my KitchenAid with its dough hook instead of mixing the dough by hand, as Robertson tells you to do.  Yeah, I know that if I were a true bread baker, I'd want to touch the dough, but I get enough touching by turning it every half hour.  (This time I turned it every half hour for between 4 and 5 hours, instead of the bare minimum 3 that Robertson instructs.  I think that's the main reason that I was almost completely satisfied with this version).

See?  I'm touching it like crazy.  It actually is very satisfying tactilely:  soft and smooth as the proverbial baby's bottom.

Bread that doesn't get done until dinnertime becomes dinner.  With sliced apples and pears, cheese, and walnuts in the bread, it's a pretty completely meal, although high in fat, I suppose.  But I'm pretty sure that the same people who are now telling us that coffee and wine are healthy are also sanguine about "good fat," which would include walnuts (although not cheese, I guess).  But maybe that message will come next year.  Oh, and by the way, if the people who announce that cheese is good for you would also mention that the best weight for someone past their prime is about 20 pounds more than when they were 18, I'd be pretty happy.

This is the last Breadbasketcase post I'll do for a while--maybe forever, depending on whether this break turns out to be just a hiatus or the end of this blog.  I've been doing this since December 25, 2005, my first post, so it's been just over 7 years.  I don't even want to count how many loaves of bread I've made, but it's been a lot.

More important than the bread I've made are the people I've met (or at least we've met in cyberspace, if not in the real world), including the wonderful Rose Levy Beranbaum herself.   I'll also miss working with my ace photographer, who has gone through at least three cameras in the course of Breadbasketcase.  We'll have to come up with another joint project, like sailing the world.

I have no interest in giving up on bread, but I find myself wanting to return to bread I've made before, and wanting to devise my own recipes.  I've tried not to repeat recipes on this blog, although I know there have been a few that I've made again without even remembering that I'd made them before.  And trying to perfect a new recipe is probably not something that would make for entertaining reading.  But if I ever do come up with the best bread I've made, you'll read about it here.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Tartine Semolina Bread

I made this just a week after my first Tartine bread, and am only just now finding a few minutes to write about it.  This bread was not as astounding as the first Tartine effort (although still quite good), and, looking at the pictures, I think I can spot several reasons why.

First, the semolina flour was coarser than I would have liked.  The Semolina Bread recipe does call for semolina flour - not surprisingly - but I remembered too late that Rose's semolina recipes all specify durum flour:  made from semolina, but lighter and finer.  I think that would have been better.

Second, although this bread method does give you large spans of unattended time, you really have to think through the timing, and you can't just run off mid-bread.  The initial rise requires "folding," which is this bread's kneading equivalent, every half hour.  And Robertson says you can't rush this period.  Unfortunately for me, I gradually realized that I was going to have to rush it a little because I was going to be gone from the house for a few hours mid-afternoon.  Going through the timing in my head, I concluded that I was either going to have to end Phase 2 after just 3 hours (the minimum time), or I would end up putting the bread in the oven at midnight.

And, although I was surprised to see that my starter was very exuberant (after the first bread, I started keeping it in the refrigerator and feeding it only weekly or as needed for bread), three hours still wasn't long enough for the first rise.

Third, I opted to use a mixture of sesame and poppy seeds only on top of the bread, while the recipe calls for those seeds, as well as fennel seeds, in the bread as well as atop the loaves.  I like fennel, but I didn't want two loaves of fennel bread--it's just too limiting.
Only as I write this does it occur to me that I could cut the recipe in half.  Duh.  I often double recipes, but I so rarely halve them that I just didn't think about it.  Making only one loaf at a time will also decrease the time spent on the bread.  Anyway, I think the bread would have been more flavorful if I'd incorporated some seeds into the dough, especially since most of the topping seeds fell off.

Finally, the step where you plop the bread dough into a burning hot pan didn't go well this time.  With both loaves, the dough didn't settle neatly into the pan, resulting in an uneven loaf.  Well, I suppose this isn't serious, but you'd like the bread to be beautiful rather than misshapen.

Jim, bless his heart, was trying to take pictures that didn't reveal that one side of the bread was an inch taller than the other side, and one side had a little ledge where it stuck to the side of the pan.  But you can see the objectionable shape in this photo.

You can also see it in this picture, which shows that the texture of this bread is not as good as in the first loaf.  I think this is because I had to rush the first step.  (And remember that by "rush," I mean that it only sat around for 3 hours.)

Am I discouraged?  I am not.  But I am looking for a day where I have nothing to do but to check the progress of the dough in the first rise.  A lazy sort of day.  A don't-rush-me sort of day.  I hope I'll have one of those in January.  Which sounds like a fine resolution to make, and one that's more keepable than my standard "eat less, exercise more" vow.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tartine Bread: Bread at Last!

This is a really wonderful bread, and actually not all that difficult, but it does require you to go through over 30 pages of instructions, including photographs. But, as with so many recipes, once you've done it, you see that it's not nearly as hard as you thought it would be. It starts the night before you bake, when, curiously (to me anyway), you dump out all the carefully cultivated starter except for one tablespoon. That's not even enough to cover the bottom of the bowl. I always thought the rule of thumb for starters was to discard half, but the Tartine method is much more profligate. This is what I started with:
Next, feed with water, whole wheat flour, and bread flour. This is the same thing as before, except this time we measure: 200 grams of water and 200 grams of flour. The test for whether the leaven is active? See if it floats in water. (Isn't this the test they used for deciding whether you were a witch? If you floated, you were a witch. If you sank, you weren't. Unfortunately, you were dead. But righteously so).
My leaven floated. Hooray! I love to do well on tests.
The leaven, flours (mostly white with a little bit of whole wheat) and water are mixed together. The Tartine way is to mix it with your hands. I think that Chad Robertson must have loved playing with clay when he was a kid, because he thinks you should get dough on your hands on any possible occasion. I used my KitchenAid to mix the dough, but this was the only time my sturdy mixer got even a bit of a workout. This bread isn't kneaded, as you'll see; it's only folded.
But wait! After I mixed it in the KitchenAid, I realized that the next step was to add the salt and a little more water, and - of course - mix it by hand. This time I decided to be a good sport about it.
Next step: into a big bowl. Preferably clear plastic or glass, but I used my regular earthenware bowl. Instead of being kneaded, the dough is folded at half-hour intervals for the upwards of four hours that it undergoes its first rise, or "bulk fermentation." It was a chilly day in Minnesota, and the dough should be at a "constant temperature between 78 and 82." My kitchen will not be 82 degrees anytime after August. But luckily for me, I have my trusty folding bread proofer. I set the proofer for 81 degrees. Otherwise, it would have taken all day for the dough to get to its next stage.
It's not easy to determine when the dough has finished its first rise. It doesn't rise that much, so the more usual test of checking to see when the dough has doubled in size is of no help. Instead, you have to look for more subtle clues. Has the dough started to get "billowy, soft, and aerated with gas?" Do more "air bubbles form along the sides of the container?" Are you realizing that if you don't move on, you'll be fooling around with this bread dough at midnight? (That last test is not in the book.) I moved on after four hours and twenty minutes. I think the dough was more billowy, but I'm honestly not sure.
Next, divide the dough (the standard recipe for Basic Country Bread makes two loaves), and shape each one into a round. Let them rest for 20 to 30 minutes. In bread lingo, this is known as a "bench rest."
The dough is then shaped again, using a series of folds. Then it rests again (Bench rest #2?) Next step: make a 50-50 mix of rice flour and wheat flour.
Why rice flour? Well, I'm assuming that it has superior non-stick properties, since we're obviously not dealing with a gluten-free product here. This mix is used to dust the towels that line the baskets or bowls in which the dough makes its last fermentation, or "final rise." This takes another three to four hours at warm room temperature. Or, if you're tired of playing around with the dough, you can put the baskets in the refrigerator, which slows the fermentation, and deal with it tomorrow. "After 8 to 12 hours [in the refrigerator], the dough will develop more complex and mildly acidic flavors." I decided just to forge ahead.
I stacked the two baskets in the dough proofer, and moved them from top to bottom every hour or so. At last--some nine or ten hours after I started in the morning, I was finally ready to bake a loaf of bread.
I don't have a good picture of this part of the process because it's hard to see the dough against the inside of the Dutch oven, which has been preheated to 500 degrees. Then the dough is turned into the very hot pot, and you slash a square onto the top of the dough. You are aware that the pot is very hot, and it would be quite easy to burn your arm, but, amazingly, that doesn't happen.
After 20 minutes in the oven (now turned to 450), the lid is removed, and you see a blonde, shiny loaf. Not ready, but looking better than you thought it would look.
After another 20 minutes of baking with the lid of the Dutch oven off, out comes a perfectly respectable looking loaf of bread. I will now admit that in my years of baking bread, including a number of "sourdough" loaves, I have never before had the courage to trust entirely in wild yeast. Even with my sourdough recipes, I've always added at least a pinch of yeast because I never really believed that the so-called "natural" yeast that's supposed to be floating around in the air would really do the trick. Why chew willow bark when you can buy aspirin? That was my theory. But here's my willow-bark, natural-yeast bread, and it looks pretty good.
Not only that, but it tastes pretty good too. It actually tastes better than pretty good. The crust is maybe the crustiest I've ever achieved, and it was done without misting, ice cubes, boiling water, or any of the other ways I've tried to get that burst of steam. Full of holes, flavorful, chewy, it's the kind of bread that makes you realize that a diet of bread and water wouldn't necessarily be a punishment.
And this is only the first, most basic loaf of bread! I could still make an olive loaf, or a walnut loaf, or even croissants! Not to mention the last half of the book, which consists of recipes using bread (bread salad, for example, or "Nettle Fritatine"). Well, I may never make it to the nettles. I'm glad to have this blog, which kept me honest. If I hadn't blogged my progress (very slow progress), I probably would have given up on Day 3 or 4. But I'm glad I stuck with it, and, if you have a couple of weeks without much to do and a willingness to throw a lot of flour down the disposal, I encourage you to do the same.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Tartine Bread: Day 10

I think it's Day 10, although I'm no longer completely sure. At any rate, the proto-leaven actually seems to be turning into a real leaven, and there is a discernible rise-and-fall routine to it now. I'm going to give it a few more days, and then it's time to try a loaf of bread this weekend! That will be a long process, with, I hope, a lot of illustrative photos. I especially hope for a good result. Here is yet another factoid about sourdough. It is estimated that only about 1% of yeasts have been identified. Questions: How the heck do they know that? And who is doing the identifying? And are people actually on the lookout for more? Like elements?

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Tartine Bread: Days 5, 6 and 7

The starter is definitely in the fermenting stage, but is not yet "rising and falling in a predictable manner." In fact, it's not really rising and falling at all. That seems to be because the "balance of yeast and bacteria" is not yet firmly established. Did you know that the mascot of the San Francisco 49'ers is "Sourdough Sam"? I didn't. Did you know that "sauerteig" means "sourdough" in German? I don't think I knew that, but it's not really a surprise.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tartine Bread: Days 3 and 4

After another day, the mixture is less brown and more bubbly. Both of these traits are satisfying, since the brownness really did not look appetizing. The bubbliness assured me that things were working as they should be.
This picture was taken after I stirred up the goop. It felt satisfyingly thick and full of activity.
This is the part that bothers my thrifty (sometimes) soul. You have to dump out almost all of the active goop, and add more flour and water. By the time I'm ready to make bread, I figure I'll have thrown away about 10 pounds of flour. Since there's very little actual bread-making activity going on around here, perhaps you'd like some random information about sourdough. (Robertson doesn't like to call it sourdough because he doesn't like sour bread, and bread made with "sourdough starter" doesn't have to taste sour. He just calls it a starter, or a "leaven.") If you want to Frenchify it, you could call it "levain." It's not really yeastless. The starter works because it captures wild yeast that's floating around in the air. Everywhere. Yes, in your house too. Rumor has it that you can speed up the sourdough process by spitting into the mixture. I swear that I didn't do that.