Sunday, February 26, 2006

Beer Bread

February 26, 2006

I'm feeling like a real baker now that I've started buying expensive baking accoutrements over the internet. The beer bread is the first loaf I've made using my new $50 baking stone, which sits in the oven for an hour before you plunk the unbaked bread on top of it. It's supposed to make the bread crustier. It seems to work.
Also, instead of a tablespoon of regular sugar which anyone has in their household, I used a tablespoon of barley malt syrup, which is supposed to be a better sweetener for bread. I seriously doubt whether that made a discernible difference, but it's more fun than using sugar. I use the word "fun" loosely.
The beer bread has a few tablespoons of whole wheat flour, and I now have six different flours lined up in my pantry, which I cleaned out last week and it's now completely devoted to baking supplies. The beer bread also has a bottle of dark beer in it; otherwise, why would it be called beer bread?
The bread was great, too. We took it over to our friends' (the Millers) house, and ate it, along with June's amazing dinner: pork roast with a mustard and maple syrup glaze, sweet and sour red cabbage, potatoes roasted with garlic, and a butter lettuce salad with pears, avocados, and candied pecans. June is a very good cook, which I'd say even if it weren't true because she's also kind of crazy with a knife.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Prosciutto ring

Monday, February 20, 2006

I love Rose Levy Beranbaum! The focaccia disaster has moved to the dark recesses of my memory and every bread I've made since then has been wonderful. It makes me happy to touch the dough, to inhale the heavenly aroma of baking bread, and to eat the warm, crusty bread.
This prosciutto ring came about because Jim had 3 ounces of leftover prosciutto from his brussels sprouts with prosciutto last night (no really, it was good!) and the prosciutto ring recipe called for 3 ounces of prosciutto. It was kismet.
A simple bread strongly flavored with prosciutto and cracked pepper, glazed with bacon grease. Not for the vegetarian or the weak of heart. I had one piece already, and, as soon as I finish working on the brief I'm writing, I'll have more. With wine.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Ricotta loaf

February 18, 2006

I thought bread baking would be a cheap hobby. What do you need, after all? A little flour, a little yeast. But, no, it turns out that you need a lot of supplies. Rose has 13 essentials in her book, and I'm missing 5 of them. (Although I finally ordered a baking stone, which you are supposed to put on the bottom shelf of the oven and place the bread directly on top of it. It costs over $50, with shipping. And it hasn't arrived yet, so I guess I'm still baking inferior bread.) And today I picked up a new loaf pan--professional grade--that set me back another $20. But I made a good-looking loaf of bread.
Rose describes the dough for this ricotta loaf as "soft as a newborn's skin." I'm not sure I like thinking about dough as a newborn baby, especially when I'm about to put it in the oven, Hansel and Gretel style, but it was nice dough all right. You mix this up in the food processor, using the dough blade, which I didn't even know I had, so it takes about 15 seconds to knead it. Nice bread,too,especially when you eat it in the middle of a Saturday afternoon with pate, cheese, honey, fruit and drink a few glasses of red wine with it.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Touch of Grace Biscuits

February 16, 2006

I've altered my goal of baking a bread a week to something just a little more ambitious. I counted all the breads in Rose's book (she doesn't have a detailed table of contents--too plebeian, I guess), and there are only about 84 recipes (in this 640-page book). By baking breads twice a week instead of only once, or maybe by occasionally having a bread-baking marathon, I think I could do them all in one year.
So today, midweek, I baked biscuits. These biscuits, so prettily named, are nothing like Bisquick biscuits. They're not like any biscuits I've ever eaten. I think it has something to do with the 1 1/4 cups of heavy cream. Rose says to use White Lily self-rising flour. Although I try to do what I'm told to do (in the bread-baking context), I do not believe that White Lily self-rising flour is available north of the Mason-Dixon line. The name makes me a little uneasy anyhow, making me think of fragile white southern womanhood.
Sarah was over for dinner tonight. She again mentioned the word "obsessive" in connection with my bread baking plan. But she ate the biscuits.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Cinnamon Raisin Loaf

February 11, 2006

I'm sort of getting into the weekly rhythm of baking bread. Today I had an all-day planning meeting for my women's political group (we did a fundraiser for John Kerry that made over $25,000 for his campaign; it wasn't our fault he didn't win). Of course, I volunteer to bring bread. A nice cinnamon-raisin bread sounds perfect.
On Friday morning before I go to work, I mix up the sponge. As soon as I get home on Friday afternoon, I take the sponge out of the refrigerator, mix in the rest of the flour and the raisins, and let it rise for a few hours. This is a stiffer dough than the ones I've worked with before, and my KitchenAid mixer starts hopping all over the counter. Jim asks me if that was normal, and I say, "of course," even though I really have no idea. And apparently it wasn't normal because the a lot of the white coating got scratched off the dough hook from all the jumping around. So now I don't know if the dough hook is still safe to use, but I'll think about that later.
I announced at work that I couldn't go to our Friday after-work happy hour because I had to start working on my bread. My coworker Davi told me that if I miss happy hour because of a loaf of bread, he doesn't even want to know me. Which seems kind of harsh. But that problem is solved when we decide just to leave work an hour early, giving me time for both happy hour and bread.
Back to the bread: after the dough doubles in size, I roll it out, pour a bunch of cinnamon and sugar on it, and roll it back up. I put it into the loaf pans and let it rise overnight. I keep waking up and worrying about the dough: what if it rises too much and takes over the refrigerator; what if it doesn't rise at all and I have two hard little raisin frisbees? Actually, it turns out just fine. I get up at 6:30 and put it in the oven. Lovely yeast, cinnamon, and raisin smells all over the house, and my friends in the political group are impressed. They also tell me that if I bake bread every week, my resolutions next year will have to include losing about ten pounds of bread weight. I'll think about that later, too.
Jim asks me if I don't think I'm getting a little obsessed with the whole bread thing. I scoff at him.
My brother Doug read this blog and told me, in a nice brotherly way, that his own rosemary focaccia turns out perfect every time. I think he's kidding, but no, he tells me how he does it (he puts everything in a bread machine). I feel morally superior because I don't use a bread machine, even though I do use a big electric mixer and I also have really lousy rosemary focaccia.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Pita bread

February 4, 2006

Jim and I were in Chicago last weekend, visiting our daughter, Elizabeth, so I skipped my weekly bread. Restaurant recommendation in Chicago: The Green Zebra, a vegetarian restaurant. None of us is a vegetarian, but we all ate every morsel of food.

I plan to make falafel for dinner tonight and so I aim for the pita bread to be done just in time for dinner so we can have fresh pitas with the falafel.

This is so much fun to make! It's the easiest dough I've made so far, and it can be put in the refrigerator for hours for a slow rise. I roll the dough out into circles (more or less)--it's like the tags on clothes where they assure you that the little imperfections are not really flaws; they just show that the whatever was lovingly made by hand. They bake for only 3 to 4 minutes, and they puff up beautifully. They taste great, too. Sarah, our older daughter, came over for dinner, and she ate two pitas just as they came out of the oven--naked. (Sarah was clothed, the bread was naked). I feel for the first time that maybe I will be able to get this bread-baking down pat.

Caramel sticky buns

January 20-21, 2006

I've read this recipe a few times, and it's clear that it's going to take a lot of time, but I think I can get the rolls on the table by 10:00 a.m. Saturday if I start as soon as I get home from work on Friday. First I make the brioche dough, steps 1 through 6. Make sponge, let it stand for 2 hours, mix, let rise 2 hours, chill 1 hour, deflate dough, let rest. These various 1-hour, 2-hour, 2-hour steps mean that I don't get to bed until about midnight.

But the dough is soft, rich, and buttery, and fun to work with. I'm happy. And I've had a few glasses of wine while waiting around for the brioche dough to do its thing. So I'm even happier.

Next morning: must get up at 6:30 in order to do the rest of the steps: make the raisin-pecan filling, make the caramel topping, make the glaze, fill the dough, cut it, let it rise. Whew. All this before my first cup of coffee. This is less fun than it was the night before with the wine.

But what a great smell that's wafting through the air to greet the first neighbors who come for coffee. The sticky buns are fabulous, and I eat three of them myself. This is not exactly helpful to my other resolution, which is to lose 10 pounds. I might have cooked the caramel a little too long. Maybe I'll try them again after I retire and have lots of free time. And after I lose the 10 pounds.


January 14, 2006

Okay, these scones are maybe the best I've ever eaten. At least I don't remember ever eating any that were better. Well, they have two cups of heavy cream and one cup of butter. All this fat bodes well for taste, if not, strictly speaking, for health. They are delicious, and they're quickly devoured by the neighbors who've dropped by for coffee. We have a lot of doughnuts left over. The scones are better.

I email Rose again to tell her the scones are great and to let her know that I plan to make caramel sticky buns next weekend. She cheers me on.

Blueberry muffins

January 7, 2006

I decide maybe it's the yeast that's the problem, and I'll make a quick bread. Can you really go wrong with blueberry muffins? I have to admit that the focaccia disaster has thrown me for a loop. I make new recipes all the time, and I'm not even all that careful about measuring, but they always turn out fine. What is the problem here?

We have an open house every Saturday morning in January for our neighbors. We serve coffee and doughnuts, and I usually bake something. It will be blueberry muffins this time, but I tell Jim to buy extra doughnuts in case the muffins turn out like the foccacia.

No, thank God. The muffins are just fine. Nice crumb, nice size. Not too sweet. Real muffins, not cupcakes disguised as muffins. Good work, Rose.

Rosemary Focaccia

January 1, 2006

Total and complete disaster! Here is what Rose has to say about this dough: "Who would have thought it even possible to make a dough this wet and still produce bread?" That should have been a tip-off. In fact, it may not be possible, and it sure isn't for a novice bread baker.

I'm all excited about my first loaf of bread. Jim volunteers to go to the grocery store for me, and I put instant yeast and sea salt on the grocery list. He comes back with regular yeast. I tell him, not very nicely, really, that Rose says "instant," and so it must be. He goes back to the store, not too happily, and returns with instant yeast. I cheerfully mix the dough, using the bread hook attachment on my new KitchenAid mixer for the first time.

Step 1: "With the mixer running, gradually add the water (lots of water) until the dough comes together.... It will be very soupy." Check. "Beat until the dough is transformed into a smooth, shiny ball, about 20 minutes." Hmm. Not smooth, not shiny. It's still potage a la bread.
Another 10 minutes. Nope. Still soup. Add a little more flour, give it 10 more minutes. No transformation yet. 10 more minutes. The hell with this. I don't have all day to wait for this miraculous transformation. Might as well just go on to step 2.

Step 2: Let the dough rise until double. Check. I now have twice as much soup.

Step 3: "Shape the dough and let it rise." Have you ever tried to shape soup? It doesn't work.
I pour the dough on the pan, let it rise again, put on the fresh rosemary and the sea salt, and put it in the oven, still hoping that some kind of miracle will occur in the oven. It doesn't.

What comes out is no longer soup, but it sure as hell isn't bread. I hack a piece off the big lump that is both sodden and burned at the same time. It tastes a little like soft, salty cardboard with rosemary. How can it be both soft and cardboardish? I don't know. Try it yourself.

I find Rose's blog on the internet and complain bitterly. She answers me in about 1/2 hour. She tells me that a lot of people have trouble with this bread, but some don't. She says weighing the flour is more exact than measuring it. She says maybe the bread should have a little more yeast. I feel that she's telling me that if I were a better person, my bread would have come out better. But I won't give up. Yet.

Merry Christmas to me

December 25, 2005

Among my Christmas presents, there is a big book, which turns out to be The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. This is not surprising, because I requested it. (Actually, it wasn't The Bread Bible at first because my husband Jim bought the wrong book, but it became the right book after he returned the wrong one).
I decided to become a bread baker after visiting The Mill City Museum in Minneapolis and realizing that the city (where I live) was practically founded on flour. And I chose Rose to be my teacher because I have her Christmas cookie book, and every cookie I've made out of that book has been excellent, except when I fail to follow the instructions, which is hardly her fault.
I look through the book and decide that I will bake a different bread every week that I'm home during the year. For my first venture, I choose rosemary foccacia bread. The picture in the cookbook looks beautiful.