Sunday, May 20, 2007

Pane Siciliano

Sunday, May 20, 2007
When I first saw pictures of this bread in The Bread-Baker's Apprentice, I knew I had to try it. The beautiful S-shape and the deep brown crust sprinkled with sesame seeds just called to me. I'm so glad it did--it's one of the most delicious breads I've ever made. As a testament to the irrestible nature of this bread, I baked three loaves this weekend. On Sunday evening, there is one-half of a piece left. (I did give one loaf away, but still...).
The directions say this is a three-day process. Day 1: Make the pate fermentee. Day 2: Mix, shape, and let rise in the refrigerator. Day 3: Bake.
The pate fermentee was easy--just a mixture of bread flour, durum flour, salt, water, and yeast. (The recipe calls for semolina flour, but Rose likes durum flour better, and I think she's right).
The second day was the fun part. The pate fermentee is mixed with more bread and durum flours, more salt, water, and yeast, plus olive oil and honey. After this rises for a few hours, it's shaped. You cut the dough in thirds, roll and stretch each part into a long, thin 24-inch cylinder. Then you wind each side up toward the center, going in opposite directions. Spray with water, sprinkle withs sesame seeds, then spray with oil, and place on parchment-papered baking sheets. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Now, I honestly did not believe that this was going to work. The glossy photos of this bread looked so beautiful, so professional, that I figured mine would be a sad, clumsy approximation. But they were doing so well in their unbaked state that I couldn't resist baking one yesterday, even though Peter Reinhart says they have to stay refrigerated at least overnight to develop their full flavor.

I was so pleased when I saw this that I didn't even care if it was lacking its full flavor potential. We had it for dinner, with spicy grilled shrimp and steamed asparagus. It was such a low-fat dinner that we felt no guilt at all as we ate piece after piece of bread. The crust was perfect, and the bread itself had such depth of flavor that it didn't need butter or olive oil. (Although they didn't hurt it).

Reinhart has a different method for oven-steaming than Rose does. Instead of using ice cubes, he recommends pouring very hot water into a pre-heated pan. That was scary. I had boiled the water about a half-hour before I needed it, so it was quite hot. When I poured it into the pan, which had been pre-heated to 500, it snapped, sizzled, and jumped all over the oven. It did make a lovely crust, but it also scared the bejesus out of me, so I rejected that method.
Today, when I made the second and third loaves, I put room temperature water into the preheated pan. That was much less frightening, although it probably didn't make as much steam. These two loaves also came out looking quite photogenic. I told Jim and Sarah that the second and third loaves, which had been in the refrigerator an extra 24 hours, should have a noticeably more developed flavor, so we were all forced to do taste tests. The verdict: loaves two and three were possibly better--in an extremely subtle way--than loaf one. But loaf one was so good that you should feel free to make this bread if you have only two days to putter around the kitchen.

This Sicilian bread is highly satisfactory to make and beautiful to present. It kept making me wish that I had the tiniest bit of Italian ancestry--I had such an urge to pass this off as a recipe from my great-grandmother. In fact, I was trying to sound like an Italian grandmother in the kitchen in hopes of somehow giving off an aura of authenticity, but I ended up sounding like Carmela Soprano. Fortunately, that didn't hurt the bread.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Postscript to sourdough breads

Monday, May 14, 2007
After I finished yesterday's post about the sourdough bread, Jim said, rather mournfully, "but you didn't use any of the pictures I posed so carefully to look like the 1939 World's Fair." I said, "Huh?" He said, "you know, the World's Fair." I said, "I have no idea what you're talking about." He said, "Sure you do--the trylon and perisphere." I said, "Jim, I seriously do not have any idea what you're talking about."

So then he sent me this picture. And told me that his sister Betty had had salt and pepper shakers in the form of these famous (!?) structures, which is proof positive that they are well-known.

Even though at my office, among my very young colleagues, I am well known for being older than dirt, I don't know anything about the trylon and the whatever, but far be it from me to deprive Jim of his visual joke, even though I'm not so sure anyone will get it.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

My Very Own Sourdough

May 13, 2007
After all the complaining I did about my slow-starting starter, I feel very proud to announce that what it lacked in speed, it made up for in staying power. I made the basic sourdough bread in Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. I like this book, although I don't find that he has the same comforting, reassuring voice that Rose has. With Rose's recipes, I always felt that I knew exactly what texture the dough should be, and I knew as I went along that things were going to be all right. And I used Rose's shaping techniques, which seem more understandable to me. I liked that his sourdough recipe made two loaves. I was going to bake them both yesterday, but then it occurred to me that I could just put the dough back in the refrigerator, where it would just gain in flavor overnight. On Saturday I used La Cloche to make a boule.

This was a very nice loaf of bread, although I think it could have done with another five minutes in the oven. With Wonder Bread being a zero and San Francisco sourdough being a ten, I prefer a four or five on the sourdough scale--this was about a 3.5, which was pretty impressive for its first outing.
Today I got out my baguette pan and made one baguette.

I could have made two loaves--this one rose much more enthusiastically than I expected, and nearly popped out of the baguette pan. I may have overcompensated a bit for the first loaf, which was a little too pale. But this one tasted just about perfect--the overnight refrigeration was an excellent idea--with a few cheeses, some Italian salami, and strawberries. And wine. Jim bought two bottles of wine (pouilly-fuisse and pinot noir) for Mother's Day, and naturally I had to try both since he bought them just for me. I thought the white wine had the edge, but it was necessary to keep sampling so I could be sure. Sarah and Jim agreed, using the same technique.
We're going to Vancouver and then to Alaska, so I have only one more weekend to bake bread before we leave. Elizabeth gave me Peter Reinhart's Crust and Crumb for Mother's Day, and I think I'll try something from that book. My bread cookbook collection now numbers five.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Before and After

Monday, May 7, 2007
I promised some before and after pictures of the kitchen, and then I'm done talking about the kitchen and back to baking bread.
This is the wall facing north, or the sink wall:

More windows now, so there's a lot more natural light. No cabinets at all on this wall. I wanted more cabinets and fewer windows; Michael wanted more windows and told me I'd have all the cabinets I'd need.
This is the east wall, facing out on the rear garden.

The west wall now has a beautiful Viking cooktop.

Before, it had an old stove that never sat straight on the floor. Whenever you sauteed something, all the oil (and eventually the food) immediately moved over to the lower part of the stove. Both Jim and I marveled when we used the new cooktop--the oil stayed where you put it! Miraculous!

The old sink:

The new sink:

The pantry area now has lots of little nooks and crannies, but also has big enough spaces so I can have most of my bread-baking equipment in one area:

Before, there was space there, but it wasn't pretty.

There's a lot happening on the south wall now--the refrigerator, cabinets, a wine rack, the oven.
Before, it was just a wall with a small kitchen table.

Before the remodel, there was a door just leading from the kitchen to the hallway:

Now, no more wasted space.

Closeups of the knobs and pulls:

Before, my cookbooks were smooshed into a small space above the microwave in the pantry.

Now, most of them are in a long shelf beside the refrigerator and above the doorway to the new pantry. The shelf is long enough that there are even empty spaces on the shelf, although I just uncovered another box of cookbooks in the basement.

A smaller shelf next to the cooktop holds the books that I use most frequently. Note the burgeoning number (well, four) of bread cookbooks.

I'm gradually getting used to the kitchen, and it is gradually becoming my own space, although even a fancy kitchen doesn't guarantee that you won't mess up a recipe.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Kitchen is Christened

Saturday, May 5, 2007
We had an open house this morning, inviting neighbors to see our new kitchen and to have coffee and doughnuts. This is our January Saturday morning tradition, but we had one out of season because everyone in the neighborhood knew we were having work done, and asked us periodically if it was ever going to be finished. (My next posting will be a comparison of the old and new kitchens).
Jim bought a few dozen doughnuts from a neighborhood bakery, and I got up early and made scones and coffee cake.
The Orange-Currant scone recipe is from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. I've tried it once before and I found the dough too stiff to work with. This time I added a little more cream, and the dough was fine--it fact it was so easy to roll out that I got carried away and rolled them out way too thin. Instead of nice, plump scones, I had scones that looked like they'd been flattened--Road Kill Scones.

Because it was a celebration, we had mimosas in addition to our regular pots of coffee and tea. Maybe because of the champagne, nobody seemed to mind the state of the scones. I don't know why I keep trying to master these Zuni scones, when Rose's recipe for scones is the best I've ever had. Just stubbornness, I guess. The cookbook author says her customers love them, so I want to love them too.
I wanted to bake one other breakfast treat, but since time was getting short, I decided to bake the mini coffee cakes from The Best Quick Recipe. These ended up looking like little derbies.

I wish I could say that I deliberately made these derby-shaped coffee cakes in honor of Kentucky Derby Day, but that would be a lie. These are easy to whip up--half of the sour cream coffee cake batter in 12 muffin cups, a layer of streusel, the rest of the batter on top.
Jim invited his sister Betty over for dinner and to see the kitchen (as long as it was clean anyway), so as soon as our first guests left, I started cooking dinner. The weather has been cool, rainy, and windy, so comfort food sounded better than something spring-like. I made an excellent red-wine pot roast with porcini from epicurious. I followed the recipe exactly, except that I used a three-pound chuck roast instead of four pounds of meet. Three pounds still gave us a whole refrigerator full of leftovers. Then we had mashed potatoes, with the rest of the sour cream from the coffee cakes, and pan-roasted asparagus.
I had just found my kitchen blow torch when I was putting things back in the kitchen, and it reminded me how much fun it is to make creme brulee. I made a basic recipe from Mark Bittman's cookbook, How to Cook Everything. I screwed these up because I was in a hurry, and I'd made them before, so I didn't bother to read the recipe carefully--just scalded the cream, whisked the egg yolks and sugar together, and added the cream. Then I realized that I was supposed to save half the sugar to make the brulee. You know what? There is no way to get sugar that's already been mixed into an egg-and-cream mixture out of the mixture. I tasted it. Very, very, sweet. I toyed with the idea of adding another six egg yolks and another 2 and a half cups of cream and making enough creme brulee to feed everyone on my block, but I rejected the idea, and decided I just wouldn't put much sugar on top. So I put the little pots in a water bath, added the pan to the oven (where the pot roast was simmering away), and went to change my clothes. On the way up the stairs, I remembered I'd never added the vanilla because I'd been so occupied in fretting about the sugar. I came back downstairs, added 1/8 teaspoon to each of the brulees, stirred it up, and left the kitchen. Quite miraculously, I didn't burn my hand.
Actually, everything turned out fine. The brulees were a little sweet, but not compared to, say, a Hostess Twinkie. Betty claimed they were wonderful, but she eats mostly Lean Cuisine, so I don't trust her compliments.
A side benefit: the oven was on most of the day, making my kitchen warmer than it's been in weeks. Coincidentally or not, my starter was more active than it's been since I began. I don't think it's quite ready to support a loaf of bread, but it's close. Thanks for all the hints: whether it was stirring it more vigorously, adding rye flour, warming the kitchen, or whispering sweet nothings to the starter, it responded to something. I'm hoping for sourdough bread next weekend.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Day 7

Thursday, May 3, 2007
Well, it's by no means doubled or tripled or quadrupled, but I think it's showing signs of growth. It's definitely not dead yet. I think that adding more rye flour helped, and maybe my new attitude did too. Rose says in her blog that many people have problems getting the starter to grow, but all who persevere will eventually succeed (sounds like a fortune cookie, doesn't it?).
Tonight I added half rye and half bread flour, as well as a pinch of sugar (something I saw recommended in some web site or another). However, because the blog is becoming a bit repetitive (Day 7 is like Day 6 which was like Day 5...), I won't write about my starter until it either does what it's supposed to do or I toss this one and start another one. I'm much too stubborn to give up. There WILL BE a sourdough starter in my kitchen one day.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Day 6

Wednesday, May 2, 2007
When I came home from work, I was full of hope that today would be the day that my little late bloomer would burst into flower. No such luck. I reminded myself that we've had cool weather lately, so the kitchen has not been at 70 to 75 degrees, and things are just moving slowly. I said encouraging things to the starter, in a tone of forced cheerfulness.
After Jim took the picture, I decided that I needed to do something more than just gave fake affirmations to my lazy, ungrateful child, so I added some more rye flour, along with the bread flour, and I put the whole thing in a clean bowl. Then I went upstairs, out of earshot, and swore at the starter. Fortunately, I had yoga tonight, and I realized that swearing at sourdough starter is not a very zen state of mind. When I got home, I told her, sincerely, that I liked her just the way she is. However, I don't think I'll be baking sourdough bread this weekend.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Day 5

Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Happy Law Day!
That greeting was just a distraction so I wouldn't have to announce that my child is not a star. She does not get to go to the head of the class. The Day 5 photo looks very much like Day 4, only less enthusiastic.

According to Rose, by Day 5, if the starter is active, it will have increased in volume to 3 or 4 cups. Mine is still bubbling, but she is more sluggish than active, and has definitely not increased to 3 cups.
Rose says that if your starter is not active, don't give up hope--just keep feeding it until it gets active. Perhaps my starter is just a late bloomer.