Sunday, November 26, 2006

Rosemary Focaccia--two ways!

Sunday, November 26, 2006
This is not my very last bread--I still have one to make--but it's the only one that has been unsuccessful, so I felt that I had to give it another try. This time it worked. But I can't figure out why this time, both the original focaccia and the variation, with garlic poached in olive oil, were rousing successes and very easy, and the first time nothing went right.
The directions say that the dough will be very soupy, but after beating for about 20 minutes, it will be "transformed into a smooth, shiny ball."
On my first attempt, that transformation never occurred--it just stayed soupy. After about 25 minutes of waiting for the transformation to occur, I added more flour, but it still stayed soupy. I tried baking it anyway, but it never metamorphosized into anything resembling bread.
This failure has galled me for my entire year of baking bread.
Elizabeth was still at home for her Thanksgiving break, and she said she wanted to try her hand at bread baking too, so she opted for the focaccia with pockets of garlic variation. After she heard about my first attempt, she said she would simply use less water. I told her it was supposed to be a very wet dough. She said, "Mom!" (Generally when she says "Mom" with an exclamation mark, it means I've said something stupid.) "Mom! Haven't you ever heard of the scientific method? We'll experiment!" As it turns out, neither of us followed the recipe precisely, but her change was deliberate and mine were accidental. And both methods gave us beautiful bread.
I intended to measure everything with great precision, but, as usually happens when I start baking before I have my full measure of coffee, I made a few errors. I used 3/4 teaspoon of yeast instead of 3/8 because I got confused. And I started pouring in the water before I had even measured it, so I measured out 442 grams (the correct amount) and poured out approximately the same amount that I'd already added to the flour. While I was doing this, I kept telling myself that I should just start over. After all, I'd only be wasting flour and water. But I just kept going. And this time, right on schedule, after 20 minutes of beating, the dough miraculously turned into the shiny, smooth ball.

And, even more miraculously, when I poured it into the dough-rising container, it looked exactly like "melted mozzarella," just as it was supposed to look.

Because I'd doubled the yeast, my dough rose in 2 hours. While I was waiting, I poached the garlic for Elizabeth's bread. The poached garlic is fabulous--even better than roasted garlic because the temperature is easier to control, and the garlic becomes soft and creamy without getting hard and chewy on the outside. And, of course, you're left with garlic-infused olive oil. The only disadvantage is that garlic permeates the air of the entire house, causing both your eyes and your mouth to water.
After being baked for just 13 minutes, the stretchy, shiny dough turned into the best focaccia I've ever tasted, and we dug into it immediately. It was crispy, but incredibly light and airy. It was not just bread, it was vindication!

I remembered the testy e-mail I sent to Rose after my first failure, telling her that she should get rid of this recipe in the next edition. NO! Pay no attention to that e-mail! It not only works when you follow the directions, but it also works even when you don't follow directions.

After the three of us greedily ate the rosemary focaccia, the less yeasty dough was ready to receive its garlic. Elizabeth and I made pockets in the dough--hers, like mine, was smooth and very elastic--and worked in the golden bits of garlic. In another 13 minutes, out came another perfect pan of focaccia--and this one was even better than the first.

My 82nd bread this year; Elizabeth's first ever. And both of them superb. Thank you, thank you, Rose, for not listening to crotchety people like me and for insisting that this wonderful bread can indeed be baked perfectly.

So what happened? What accounts for the difference? I can think of only a few possibilities. This was my first loaf of bread and I used flour that I'd had on hand. Because I didn't do that much baking, my flour might have been middle-aged if not elderly. This time, I opened a brand new package of King Arthur all-purpose flour. Or the first time, I was measuring the old-fashioned way: with cups and teaspoons. Now I use a scale and no longer understand why we don't weigh instead of measure in this country. Or it could be my shiny new KitchenAid. But my friend Sara has made this bread without incident many times using her old Artisan model. Finally, I might try to chalk it up to experience, except that Elizabeth's bread turned out as well as mine, and she has no experience at all. (Although she was guided by me, which must be worth something).
If my first description of baking this bread has discouraged anyone from baking this, or if, like me, you've tried and failed, I beg you to pluck up your courage and open The Bread Bible to page 205. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 24, 2006
I thought that I might get out of cooking the big Thanksgiving feast this year because I had hoped that our kitchen renovation might be under way. After Michael (Anschel of Otogawa-Anschel) told us that he wouldn't start until January, I gave up and decided just to cook up a storm. My menu was ambitious: roast turkey, mashed potatoes with roasted garlic, sweet potatoes with maple syrup, stuffing with parmesan and pine nuts, cranberry chutney, stir-fried green beans with garlic and ginger, roasted Brussels sprouts, sweet-tart cippoline onions, and Parker House rolls. My daughter Sarah brought a beet and fennel salad, and my daughter Elizabeth made a big green salad. Jim's sister Betty brought shrimp cocktail and a cheese dip with a raspberry-chipotle sauce. For dessert, I made Apple Crumb and Key Lime pies (both from Rose's Pie and Pastry Bible) and a Pumpkin Upside Down Cake from Lynn Rossetto Kaspar's newsletter.
This menu turned out to be not just ambitious, but crazy.
I took Wednesday off work to cook and I started off in a leisurely fashion with the apple pie. I make pie about once a year--on Thanksgiving or Christmas (except on the year that I threw a big Pie, Poetry, and Potables party, but that's a different story)--so my technique is not good. If I decided to throw myself into pie baking in a big way, I would have to experiment with different rolling pins and surfaces, but for now I made do with the one I picked up at Target a few years ago.
For the apple crumb pie, I used Rose's cream cheese pie crust. It was, as promised, both tender and flaky, and it tasted so delicious that you could fill it with cinnamon and sugar, roll it up, and eat it as a little pastry. I know that you could because I did. It brought back memories of childhood, when my mother would always give all of us a scrap of pie dough to shape, fill, and bake, except that this was a tastier crust than my mother made, because she used Crisco instead of butter and cream cheese. However, the crust wanted to stick to the counter, and I didn't leave enough dough on the edge to make a good tall crust. This pie is not a work of art, but it was one of the best apple pies I've ever eaten.
By the time I got the apple pie out of the oven, however, it was past noon, and I realized I could no longer work at a leisurely pace, and, besides, I needed to go to the grocery store for more supplies. It was almost 2:00 before I started work, simultaneously, on the butter-topped rolls and the Key Lime pie. Fortunately, the Key Lime pie was quick. I've made Key Lime before with bottled Key Lime juice. Although it claims to have no preservatives, it has a nasty taste. Rose recommends solving that problem by using regular supermarket limes instead of Key limes, and this turned out to be a good suggestion. With a little bit of lime zest, it was tart, and, piled with whipped cream, just sweet enough to offset the tartness. Rose's recipe calls for an Italian meringue, which would have been prettier, but we're a whipped cream family. I intended to make a stabilized whipped cream so I could cover the entire pie with cream, and I intended to garnish it with a few paper-thin lime slices, but by the time I served dessert, I was too tired to care, so I just had a big bowl of whipped cream, with an option for vanilla ice cream, for all the desserts.

Compared to the pies, the rolls were a breeze. I made the butter-topped roll recipe again, but this time I made Parker House rolls. These are the perfect dinner rolls, and they also make a super-delicious base for a leftover turkey sandwich.

By the time I finished making everything I had to make ahead of time, it was 10:00 on Wednesday night, I was bone-tired, covered with flour, and feeling more put upon than thankful.
My big question to myself in the days before Thanksgiving: should I bake three pies or should I be daring and make one dessert that's not a pie. This was not an insignificant issue. To present a non-pie option on Thanksgiving would be a serious break from Tradition. I found a recipe for pumpkin upside-down cake with cranberries and pecans that sounded so rich and buttery I thought it would might satisfy pumpkin pie lovers.

Actually, this dessert was a hit, although I was disappointed in it. The butter and brown sugar topping had 8 ounces of butter. I was thinking 8 tablespoons, or one stick, but then I realized that 8 ounces is a half a pound. Half a pound of butter! No wonder it sounded rich. I still wonder if that was a misprint, because there was so much butter that it oozed out of the cake for about an hour until it stabilized. And the texture of the cake was more like a pudding than a cake, but it did look pretty.
Thanksgiving was my family's favorite holiday because it's all about eating, and eating a lot. As a child, I remember eating seconds and thirds, especially of mashed potatoes and stuffing. Now I'm more circumspect, and I eat more vegetables and less gravy, but there is something admirable about a holiday that doesn't force you to buy presents--just to eat. And there is something very sweet about the Midwestern way of saying thank you--"Oh, you fussed! You shouldn't have!"

Monday, November 20, 2006

Heart of Wheat Bread

Sunday, November 19, 2006
This is the easiest bread ever--it's hardly any more trouble than going to the grocery store and buying a loaf of bread. And that's only a slight exaggeration. Its ingredients are just bread flour (I still had some King Arthur Artisan Flour that I bought for baguettes, so I used that), yeast, water, salt, a little honey and a few spoons of wheat germ: the virtues of whole wheat and the virtues of white, all in the same loaf. You make the sponge, ignore it for a few hours, turn it, ignore it, shape it into a free-form loaf, ignore it once again, and bake it. It's crusty and wheaty, with a wonderful texture, and it can easily be made in the space of a day.

We had tickets for The Rivals last night, and our friends June and David Miller came over for a quick dinner before the play. The bread, still warm from the oven, was the star of the appetizer table. This morning, I had it for breakfast toast, and it was as good as toast as I was hoping it would be. Rose says that this bread is the culmination of everything she learned about baking bread.
Although The Bread Bible has some elaborate and complex recipes in it, it's interesting that this bread--a summary of Rose's extensive knowledge about bread-baking--is such a basic, simple bread. But have you ever noticed that most chefs say that their favorite recipe, and the one they've worked the hardest to perfect, is roast chicken? To do something simple, and to do it perfectly, must be the mark of the expert.
Maybe I can't claim perfection for my first try at Heart of Wheat bread, but I can claim pretty damn good.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Tuesday, November 14, 2006
I had volunteered to bring bread to my Tuesday night book club and was trying to figure out how I could bake a bread on Tuesday and still go to work, having decided that I was not going to do Bring Your Bread to Work Day again. I looked at the recipes for the three remaining breads I had and decided that panettone would work well because the recipe allows for many hours of optional refrigerator time.
On Saturday, we went to Trader Joe's and got some chestnuts and a nice raisin medley. I had already ordered the Fiori di Sicilia--the essential flavoring for the bread, and the decorative paper breadpans, so I was all ready (except for the orange, which I forgot and had to send Jim out to fetch early Sunday morning). And, by the way, Jim is perfectly happy in his role of fetcher of forgotten ingredients for, as well as eater and photographer of bread.
I made the sponge on Saturday night, mixed the dough, let it rise, and shaped it on Sunday, and then put it in the refrigerator. I left careful instructions for Jim, who was working from home today: take dough out of refrigerator at noon and call me when it has risen up to the top of the paper pan. When I called him at 3:00 to check on its progress, he said it was still 3 to 4 inches below the top. I told him how to improvise a proofing box and then worried about why my poor bread was being so slow when it had been lustily rising away two days earlier. I fretted so much I decided I might as well just leave work early to check on it. Although Jim had concocted an excellent makeshift proofing box, the bread was still below the top of the bread pan. Still, it looked very pretty and puffy so I just hoped it would all turn out all right, which, in fact, it did, and it was still warm when I toted it to book club.
alt="" />
I honestly wasn't that keen on making panettone. We got one last year from Harry and David and, while it was not disgusting, it wasn't anything to write home about. In fact, I ended up taking half of it into work where they eat anything. But--sorry Harry and David--this bread is so far superior to what I got last year, it shouldn't even share the same name. It's rich, buttery and feather-light, with a hint of sweetness and a wonderful citrusy tang, and just the right amount of raisins. If I owned the above-named mail order company, I think I would think hard about changing my panettone recipe to, say, this one.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Wheaten Croissants

Friday, November 10, 2006
I just couldn't allow the croissant to be my very last bread. The very idea of actually baking a croissant on my own was causing me far too much consternation. I got the day off today, and, while a French roll is perhaps not the most appropriate thing to make for Veterans' Day, the French were, after all, our allies in two world wars, so it wasn't completely off the wall.
I mixed up the dough last night. That part was easy. This morning, after a big mug of strong coffee, I was ready to tackle the butter package and to start the process of rolling the butter into the dough. You know what? It really wasn't that hard. As I rolled, folded, refrigerated, rolled..., I forgot my fear and just concentrated on the project at hand. In that respect, it was a little like labor, where you become so focused on what you're doing, you have no time to worry. (Lest the labor analogy scare anyone, I want to assure you that in no other way is making croissants like labor, except the finished product makes it all worthwhile).
My big worry was that the butter would break through the dough and make the whole thing a big mess. That didn't happen. I also wasn't quite sure that I could follow all the detailed instructions, but I did--and it would be much easier next time.
The only problem was that I didn't let the rolls rise enough. My friend Teddie planned to drop by today with her daughter, Clea, and I promised her a fresh-from-the-oven croissant at 4:30. I started the rising process at 1:30, so I thought they should be ready to go into the oven at 3:30, making the timing just about perfect. At 3:30, they hadn't doubled in size yet, so I put them in a warmer place for another 20 minutes. They still hadn't doubled, but I put them in the oven anyway. And I ended up making 14 instead of 12 because that's the way the triangles turned out. Consequently, the croissants were a little smaller than I'd envisioned.
I took them out of the oven just as Teddie and Clea walked in the front door and Jim walked in the back door. The house smelled heavenly, and I doled out the croissants like Lady Bountiful herself.

Teddie, Clea, and Jim ate theirs plain, and I put orange marmalade on mine.

Perhaps they were not quite perfect, but they were delicious, with a crusty exterior and an inside that was all flaky tenderness.

I don't know what French cook got the idea to take a big chunk of butter and work it into buttery layers, but whoever it was deserves a Medal of Honor. Or the Croix de Guerre. Or the Croix de Croissants.
Jim said, "Don't you feel proud of yourself?" Well, yes I do. But what I really want to do is to make them again in my new oven that will have a bread proofing setting and that will, I hope, not be anywhere from 25 to 75 degrees off. If only I had had the foresight to include baking croissants on my list of life goals, I could now cross it off!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Authentic Pumpernickel Bread

Sunday, November 5, 2006
I didn't think there would be any bread this weekend, but I got home in enough time to make pumpernickel bread, which, of the five I have left, was the one that took the least amount of time.
Because we are public defenders, and our budget is always tight, our annual conference is at the cheapest resort in Minnesota on the cheapest weekend of the year. The first weekend in November is off-off-season for northern Minnesota. The only other thing that's going on is Deer Opener; that is, the first day that people can go out in the woods and commune with Nature by killing animals.
We have a very close-knit office, and everyone was looking forward to going to Cragun's (the cheap resort), even though everyone always complains about the decor (ratty North Woods), color scheme (turquoise and brown), the smell of the cabins (combination of mildew and bleach), and the food (all-you-can-eat bowls of lime jello with pineapple tidbits and miniature marshmallows). As soon as we got there, people started talking about when they were leaving. The young women who were spending their first time away from their babies made secret phone calls to their husbands to check on whether their husbands had remembered 1) to pick up the child from day care and 2) to feed him or her. (All was well). The somewhat older women told the new mothers to enjoy their time away from their kids because it wouldn't happen very often. And some people (well, one person) kept talking about a KitchenAid and bread. The men, on the other hand, started drinking beer as soon as they arrived and showed no interest in going home early.
I stayed until Sunday morning, skipped the last two classes, and headed for home--the KitchenAid and The Bread Bible.
What a machine this is! Well, I have to admit that I was a little confused at first, but it didn't take me long to figure out how to attach the bowl to the mixer and to move the bowl up and down. My only real dilemma was the mixer speed: Rose says to knead on #4, but KitchenAid has dire warnings on every available surface of the machine, on the bread hook itself, and repeatedly throughout the informational brochure: "Use Speed 2 to mix or knead yeast doughs. Use of any other speed creates high potential for unit failure!" I finally decided I'd better go with KitchenAid's warnings, since Rose didn't threaten me with anything as bad as "unit failure" if I didn't use Speed 4.
It must be a more powerful motor because #2 speed worked just fine.
When I made the sourdough pumpernickel bread a month or so ago, I didn't have the caramel color and I had only very coarse sourdough grain. It still tasted good. I think that this one may have been even better. I liked the texture of the more finely ground flour, and the caramel color, along with the cocoa and the instant espresso powder, deepened the color beautifully. I added a little sourdough starter to the dough while I was mixing it, and that small amount of sourdough, plus a little cider vinegar, gave the bread a subtle tang.
I had two minor mishaps, but neither one shows in the picture, and neither one affected the taste. La Cloche slid into one side of the bread when I put it in the oven, so that side stuck to La Cloche and had to be forcibly detached. But we just moved that side to the back for the photos. And I made a mistake about the baking time so I took the bread out too early; even using the "thump" method instead of the thermometer method, however, I could see it wasn't done, so I just put it back in. And what's a project without a mistake or two?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

My New KitchenAid

Wednesday, November 1, 2006
This morning, just before I was going out the door to go to work, a FedEx truck drove up and handed me a large box. Actually, he didn't hand it to me, he brought it in and put it on the floor. It said "KitchenAid Professional 600 Series, Nickel Pearl." My dream machine in my dream color.

It seems that Rose Levy Beranbaum and the friendly KitchenAid people were worried about my old mixer (the one that was left in Blaine and may have been kidnapped for all I know because I still haven't heard a word about it) and about the dwindling amount of time left for my project and the slightly hysterical tone that seems to have crept into my writing when I talk about said dwindling time. So they decided that it would be a very good thing if I had a brand new KitchenAid that would purr like a kitten when I was turning out my remaining five breads. And who am I to disagree with my highly distinguished, generous and thoughtful Bread Mentor and kindly Mr. KitchenAid.
When I got home from work, I took everything out of the box and admired its sturdiness and its techno-charm.

My friend Karen called to remind me that it's Wednesday--yoga night--but I demurred. "I want to sit home and gaze lovingly at my new KitchenAid, and I need to read the instruction manual so I'm all ready to bake," I told her.

Finally she bribed me by promising to pick me up and to turn on the heated leather seats in her car and to buy me a glass of wine when we're done with yoga. I succumbed to her blandishments.
The really irritating thing is that I have to leave town on Friday for the annual 3-day Public Defenders' Conference, and, unless I can sneak away early, I'm not going to be able to bake any bread this weekend. It's so annoying how people think they can tell you how to spend your day just because they pay you a salary.