Sunday, March 30, 2008

Crocodile Bread

Sunday, March 30, 2008
This Coccodrillo, from Carol Field's The Italian Baker, was highly recommended by a woman at the Edesia cookbook panel in February. I tried it once before, and it didn't turn out too well--I didn't even blog about it--but I was determined to make it work this time.
It's a three-day process, and I rushed a few steps the first time. This time, I started on Friday night so I'd have plenty of time.
The Friday night step was just making a starter out of yeast, water, durum flour, and bread flour.

Mid-afternoon on Saturday, I made the second starter: more yeast, water, durum flour, and bread flour, plus the first starter:

I know. It looks a lot like the first starter. I let both of them bubble away for about 18 hours--36 hours of bubbling in all. This was one of several steps that I tried to fit into less than a day the first time I tried it.
The next step was mixing the second starter with more flours and some salt. I decreased the recommended 25 grams to about 18 grams because the first time I made it I thought it was too salty. Before I started baking bread, it really never occurred to me that bread was something that could be either too salty or not salty enough. Then it has to rise for four or five hours, being turned in the bowl every hour or so. One more step that I hurried through the first time I tried it.
I never could have made this bread successfully if I hadn't made Rose's focaccia. Like the focaccia, this is a very wet dough that doesn't come together easily. The first time, I followed the directions and mixed it in the KitchenAid on low speed for 20 minutes. I ended up with something that was a sloppy mess. This time, I mixed it on a slightly higher speed for a good half-hour until it finally came together--that stage that looks like melted mozzarella.

At this point, the dough acts almost as if it's alive. It's roiling and full of bubbles--like some alien thing in a 1950's outer-space movie. I half expected it to take over my kitchen.

Before it could, I shoved it in the oven, which tamed it quite nicely. My only complaint at this point is that the expensive all-natural parchment paper I bought at Whole Foods stuck to the bread. What's the point of using parchment if it sticks? After 35 minutes in the oven, the bread looked beautiful, even though I broke a couple of the pretty air bubbles on top of the loaves trying to peel back the parchment.

We couldn't wait for it to cool off before we sliced it.

As you can see, a little bit crushed, but still wonderfully hole-y and with a marvelous crisp crust.
Why is it called crocodile bread? Sarah claimed that she could see a marked resemblance to crocodiles. I don't see it myself, but I may just be lacking in imagination.
According to the book, the bread was "dreamed up by Gianfranco Anelli," a Roman baker. People supposedly come from all over the city to buy it. I wouldn't go to Rome to buy it, but I would certainly go to a bakery in Minneapolis. Fortunately, I don't have to. I just have to remember to start it a couple of days before I want it.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Brioche

Sunday, March 23, 2008
When I started going to law school, Sarah was just a toddler and Elizabeth hadn't been born. My mother warned me that law school could cause me to forget to get Sarah an Easter basket. "Roberta [my sister] forgot all about Easter when she was in law school, and if it hadn't been for me, poor Tony wouldn't have had an Easter basket at all," she said. I promised her I would never forget to get my kids an Easter basket. And I never did. In fact, I kept getting them Easter baskets after they moved out of the house, although I've finally stopped now. But I almost forgot about Easter this year, what with the snow and the fact that Easter is the earliest it will ever be in my lifetime. And in your lifetime too, dear reader, even if you are much younger than I am.
But I did remember it enough to think that I should make something Easter-ish this weekend. I chose brioche. It has no Easter connotations that I know of, but it does have a lot of eggs in it, so there you go.
I chose a recipe from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. He has three versions: Rich Man's Brioche, which takes a full pound of butter; Middle Class Brioche, which takes a half-pound; and Poor Man's Brioche, which takes only a lousy stick of butter. I chose the middle class, of course.
They all start with a sponge:

This is a very rich, buttery dough. I'm not sure why I would ever want to double the amount of butter, which seems like it would be very hard to incorporate. But maybe that's a challenge for sometime when I need to gain weight, if such a time were ever to occur. The recipe makes two brioches a tete, or a lot of petites brioches, or a couple of loaves. I decided to make one real brioche and some rolls.
While I was shaping the rolls, I thought they might be good with some raisins in them, and then I thought that they might be good with mini chocolate chips in them, and then I thought that they might not be good with either of these additions, so I made some plain, some with raisins, and some with chocolate chips.

They are cleverly marked, to identify which is which.
The unbaked brioche a tete is in my sole brioche pan. The last time I made brioche, many months ago, the tete was frighteningly askew, so this time I was determined to have it look normal.

I thought that the egg glaze would make everything look beautifully shiny, and it did add sheen, but it also looked cracked. The egg glaze in this recipe instructed me just to beat an egg and brush it on. If I'm remembering correctly, other recipes for egg glazes specify adding some water to the egg. My guess is that this thins it enough so that it's not so prone to cracking when it's baked, but it's just a guess. Whether I'll remember to do this, in order to test my theory, the next time I brush on an egg is anyone's guess.

We ate these brioche rolls for our Easter breakfast. Jim made omelets with bacon, caramelized onions, and roasted red pepper. They were quite good, and so were the rolls.
That left us with the larger brioche to eat later in the day. We tried, we really did, but couldn't quite manage. I'll do the toast-test with some of the large loaf of brioche tomorrow morning. I was pleased to see that the tete made it through the baking still looking pretty normal.

Happy Easter to my dear daughters, even though I did not make you Easter baskets this year!

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Our friends Doug and Mary invited us to their house to view some of their New Zealand slides, in preparation for our upcoming trip to Austrlia and New Zealand, and I said I'd bring dessert. Since I still had about a cup and a half of buttermilk in the refrigerator, naturally I wanted to make something to get rid of the buttermilk. A chocolate cake sounded good, and I found a recipe for chocolate buttermilk cake on the internet.
Now I know how you Brits feel (I'm talking to you, Melinda) when you have to change our recipe instructions and measurements. This cake called for 250 g. of butter, which is just slightly more than two sticks. It also wanted "caster sugar" (?) and "plain flour" (something like all-purpose?). It also called for 250 ml of buttermilk, which seemed like a lot, but didn't quite use up the remaining buttermilk. (It's gone, though).
It turned out to be a very nice cake. If you want to try it yourself, just Google "chocolate buttermilk cake," and it should appear.

The recipe suggested serving it with chocolate ganache poured over it, which sounded like a good idea to me. I am not much of a cake baker, but I've made ganache before, and it's always turned out fine. Even though it sounds very French and fancy, it's quite easy, and it actually never occurred to me that it was tricky. But this one was. Instead of turning out smooth and glossy, as a ganache is supposed to do, it got all dull and curdled. It looked like it couldn't be rescued, so I just dumped it on the cake, and hoped that people would just notice the strawberries and not the unpretty ganache.

Of course, if I'd been thinking, I would have checked out The Cake Bible, in which Rose tells how to rescue a curdled ganache. First of all, I could have used her food processor method, which she calls "foolproof." I don't know about you, but I'm always a little reluctant to tempt fate by trying "foolproof" recipes. And "overbeating causes curdling," she says, which I didn't know. "If the mixture gets overbeatan and grainy, it can be restored by remelting, chilling, and rebeating." I obviously didn't know that either, but I'm offering this hint to you, free of charge, in case you ever end up with a curdled ganache.
By the way, Doug forgot to check the light bulb on his slide projector, so we didn't see the slides of New Zealand after all, but we did enjoy the cake. And it was still good the next day, when I took it to my political group. And it was still quite good on Friday, when I took it to work, where the last piece was chopped up and divided until only crumbs were left. Finally, when no one was looking, the crumbs disappeared.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Five-Minute Peasant Bread

March 9 - March 16, 2008
After the pot luck where I brought the Irish soda bread, I came home and made a batch of Five-Minute Artisan peasant bread. First, I translated all the cups and tablespoons to weights, and then I mixed up a big batch of dough.

Although the book says just to stir it together without kneading, I couldn't resist kneading it for a few minutes because I thought that might develop the flavor more. In the morning I made one little one-pound loaf, which, because my photographer was away for the week, did not even get photographed. I managed to eat this baby peasant loaf all by myself in the course of a week, just by having a piece of toast every morning. I decided the one-pound loaves were a little too small, so I ended up making three loaves of bread from the master recipe, instead of four tiny loaves.
Yesterday, I made a torpedo loaf from half the remaining dough. I let it rise more than the recommended 40 minutes because that amount of time, directly from the refrigerator, results in almost no rising at all, and too much oven spring.

I put the shaped loaf in LaCouche's oblong pan, which Jim calls the Bread Coffin, and let it sit for a few hours. It still didn't do much rising--I think because it had been in the refrigerator for nearly a full week.
After a week, the flavor is definitely different. A little funky, or more fully-developed, depending on how you want to look at it. Jim loved the crust, but was not in love with the taste.

Sarah, on the other hand, could have eaten the whole loaf, although she has developed the Marginal Utility theory of eating, which holds that the first few bites of anything are the most satisfying, and your second helping of even something delicious will never be as good as the first helping. Once you have digested this theory, so to speak, you should be able to stop eating before the marginal utility goes down. She's going to write a diet book on this theory and make millions. I cut two pieces of bread for everyone, however, and she ate two.

You're supposed to be able to keep the Artisan bread dough in your refrigerator for two weeks, but I was a little doubtful about whether it would keep for another week, so I chopped up some Kalamata olives and tossed them in the last bowl of dough. This was an excellent idea.

Blended with the olives, the bread no longer had that sort of funkiness that it had on its own. (In fact, it didn't have it when it was toasted, either, which makes me wonder if I was imagining it). I also think this olive bread turned out to be the handsomest loaf of the bunch.

I'm still of two minds about this Five-Minute bread. The upside (having three or four loaves of bread at the ready) is, for me anyway, also the downside: being committed to having the same kind of bread for a couple of weeks. I really enjoy going through books and magazines, figuring out what bread I'm going to make this weekend, so having a giant bin of one kind of bread dough takes a lot of the fun out of bread-baking for me. But if you like having a familiar bread always ready to take out of the refrigerator and bake, I guess this is not a downside for you.

Irish Soda Bread

March 9, 2008
This bread is so delicious, I really don't know why I feel that I can only make it in mid-March. I used Rose's recipe for Royal Irish Soda Bread, but I soaked the raisins in water, not in Irish whiskey, because I was making it for some people who don't drink whiskey. They probably would have liked it if they hadn't known, but I would have felt compelled to blurt out, "These raisins were soaked in whiskey. And the butter has whiskey in it too."
They're a lot like scones, only not quite as rich because they have buttermilk instead of cream and about one-third as much butter. I had one little piece left. I think I've already remarked on the penchant of Minnesotans never to want to take the last piece of anything, so people just slice away at the last piece until there is one small, malformed bit of whatever it is that they don't want to take the last bite of. That left me a malformed bite of soda bread for my mid-morning snack the next day, which gave me the knowledge that, fine as it is on the first day, soda bread really doesn't keep very well.
I also now have most of a quart of buttermilk to use up. Dang!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Edesia Cookbook Review

Monday, February 25, 2008

As I mentioned, Kim Ode, a writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and avid bread baker, is hosting a series of events about cookbooks. The first panel was about bread cookbooks, and I was asked to talk about, not surprisingly, The Bread Bible. Kim Ode reviewed Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and Will Powers, member of the St. Paul Bread Club, filled in for Solveig Tofte, who had to bow out because she was in training for the Bread Olympics; he discussed Peter Reinhart's new book on whole grain breads.

The event turned out to be great fun, and we had a knowledgeable and enthusiastic audience, including, to my delight, my faithful reader Jini.

All of us brought bread for the audience to sample. I ended up deciding to bake two kinds in case one of them didn't turn out. Of course, I didn't want to embarrass myself by showing up with some ugly, tasteless bread, but I also wanted to do right by Rose's recipes. I had to try my nemesis, the rosemary focaccia, which is no longer my nemesis. Each stage turned out perfectly: the soupy mixture turning into a ball after 20 minutes of beating, and the ball becoming a stretchy mixture resembling smooth, creamy melted mozzarella:

Best of all, the mozzarella/dough miraculously became transformed into a beautiful, brown, chewy rosemary focaccia. I even remembered to dimple deeply before sprinkling on the rosemary and the salt.

Jim thought it didn't have quite enough salt on it to be perfect, but I say Rose herself would have nodded approvingly at this bread. As it turned out, I wouldn't have had to do the backup bread because I was so pleased with the focaccia, but I'd already started a chocolate-almond kugelhopf, which required the purchase of some new almond paste because I misplaced the last tube I bought. (No, I don't know how it's possible to misplace almond paste).
I was feeling pretty invincible after the successful focaccia, and I loved the feel of the kugelhopf dough. It rolled out easily and I was confident of another success when I shaped it and smoothed on the filling without trouble.

Unfortunately, it wasn't quite long enough to let me double the ends over each other, so it ended up looking a little peculiar.

This is not, I'll be the first to admit, a perfect kugelhopf. It's quite imperfect. I decided I would take just one bread after all, and so I cut open the kugelhopf to give Jim and Sarah a piece.

But look how pretty! And so delicious!
As Jim was about to cut himself a second slice, I grabbed the knife away from him, and told him he couldn't have any more. It occurred to me that I could cut slices and arrange them prettily on a platter. No one would have to know that they came from imperfect bread.

I passed around both breads to oohs and aahs. People admired the focaccia, but there's nothing like chocolate, is there? The kugelhopf platter was completely denuded by the time it made the rounds, and poor Jim felt that his lovely little chocolate bread had been wrested away from him to feed a bunch of strangers, and Jini, too, but she was no longer a stranger.
The next Edesia cookbook review will be at the Galleria Barnes & Noble on Monday, March 24. It will be spring by then, and a perfect time to talk about Mediterranean cooking, which will be the topic. I plan to be there--in the audience this time, and, I hope, sampling some Mediterranean recipes and maybe adding to my cookbook collection.