Sunday, March 22, 2009

Beranbaum's Best Buns

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Reader Oriana (Doughadear) sent me a link to this article from The Washington Post. Oriana said she made them nearly every week, although she has never actually used them as hamburger buns, and takes them along when she visits someone's house.
This was quite a recommendation. Hamburger buns are not that exciting. They're fluffy and soft--even the whole wheat ones--and pretty flavorless. The hamburger patty, along with the condiments, is what gives the hamburger its great all-American taste. The bun is just there to keep your hands from getting too greasy. At least, that was my opinion before I tasted Rose's hamburger buns.
They're made m ostly of all-purpose flour, with just 1/4 cup of whole wheat flour, a soupcon of honey (one teaspoon, to be exact), and some olive oil. The recipe also gives the healthier option of adding 3/4 cup of toasted mixed seeds to the dough, and I think I'll try that next time, but I wanted the unadulterated bun this time.
After the dough rises, you cut the dough in eight pieces, if you want normal-sized buns, shape them into balls, and flatten them slightly.

After about an hour and half, they puff up nicely and begin to look like the real thing.

If you are so inclined, you can brush them with a little milk or water, and scatter some sesame seeds on top. I did half and half. After just a little over 15 minutes in the oven, they look like real hamburger buns and smell like bread, not like soft cotton.

They look good, they smell good, and they're sturdy enough to stand up to a bread knife.

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. (What on earth does that mean, anyhow?) These buns are delicious! They're not the afterthought to a piece of grilled meat. In fact, if you couldn't finish the whole hamburger, you would probably jettison the meat and finish the bun instead of vice-versa. The small amount of whole wheat is enough to give them some sturdiness, and they have a real crust. It's hard to imagine a sandwich that wouldn't be markedly improved by this bun, which really gives a whole new meaning to the word. I highly recommend these buns; if you don't like hamburgers, try them with something else. Or try them just as bread. But try them.
Thanks to Oriana for the tip.

Rose's Ricotta Loaf

Saturday, March 22, 2009

I've been thinking with great nostalgia lately about opening Rose's Bread Bible for the first time, and making my first successful bread, which was actually my second attempt. All the nostalgia made me want to go back and make a bread I've already made instead of trying another new one, so I just opened the book at random and happened on Ricotta Loaf. I remembered loving that bread the first time I made it, so I was happy. Then I remembered that Rose's blog has a recipe for Ricotta Bliss, which she says is the ricotta loaf perfected, and I remembered that that version was awfully good too. I dithered around for a while trying to decide whether I should make the original, perhaps slightly inferior, loaf or the new, improved one. I settled on the loaf from the book, which was actually even better than I remembered.
It's one of the easier breads in the cookbooks and one of the quickest to mix up. You put everything in the food processor except the water, pulse it a few times, add the water, and then process for about a minute. I suppose a bread machine is easier, but it couldn't be much easier. The dough is lovely, smooth, and supple. It looks rich because of the egg and butter, and I guess it is (for the same reasons), but the ricotta makes me think it's actually a very healthy bread.

Even though it's made in a loaf pan, you get to slash it down the middle, which I love to do. And Jim loves to take pictures of the result, so it's a win-win situation. I suppose I could always do it with every bread that I bake, but I don't unless there are explicit instructions to do so.
Once the bread is done, you have the option of brushing it with melted butter. I didn't, because I was telling myself it was a very healthful loaf of bread and the melted butter might have required me to abandon that illusion.

What a lovely mid-afternoon treat this turned out to be! I had mine with lemon curd--because it's a fruit, you know. Jim had his with butter. I hope he doesn't go to hell, on account of being so much less virtuous than I am.

Rose's Ricotta Loaf
--adapted from The Bread Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum

3 1/2 cups (500 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 T. (25 grams) sugar
1/2 T. (4.8 grams) instant yeast
1 cup plus 1 1/2 T. (250 grams) whole-milk ricotta
7 T. (100 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1/2 T. (10 grams) salt
1/2 cup (118 grams) cold water

1. Put flour, sugar, yeast, ricotta, butter, egg, and salt in bowl of food processor and pulse about 15 times. With the motor running, add the cold water. Process for about one minute.

2. Put dough in lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

3. An hour before baking, preheat oven to 375. If you have a baking stone, preheat that at the same time, and preheat a cast-iron skillet or baking pan on the lowest shelf of the oven.

4. Shape the dough into a loaf and place it in an oiled or buttered 9" by 5" loaf pan. Cover the dough loosely with oiled plastic wrap and allow it to rise until almost doubled, about 45 minutes to one hour and 15 minutes.

5. With a sharp knife or razor blade, make a long 1/2-inch slash down the middle of the bread. Mist the dough with water and set the pan on the preheated baking stone. Add 1/2 cup ice cubes into the pan on the bottom shelf and close oven door.

6. Bake 40 to 50 minutes. Turn bread around about halfway through baking for more even browning. If bread is getting too brown on top, drape a piece of foil loosely on the top.

7. Unmold bread and place on wire rack. Brush with melted butter if desired. Let cool before slicing.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Artisan Five-Minute Deli Rye

Last Saturday, some friends invited us to a Pinot Noir tasting party. The idea was that we would see if we could tell Oregon Pinot Noir from northern California Pinot Noir (we couldn't) and to see if there was a clear favorite among four different wines (there wasn't). I was supposed to bring bread. Since I know that Fred, who would be the wine pourer, is a big fan of caraway rye bread, I figured if I brought him a loaf of caraway rye, he might pour extra-big glasses of wine for me. I think my ploy worked, but I don't remember.
I really wanted to bake Rose's rye bread recipe, which is the best I've made, but I was going to be gone all day Saturday and I didn't think I could work it into the schedule, so I settled on the Five-Minute recipe, which does have the advantage of giving you a lot of flexibility.
The recipe is supposed to make four loaves of bread, but they would be very small one-pound loaves. I scooped up nearly two pounds of dough for my first loaf.

The bread is supposed to be brushed with a cornstarch wash to make it nice and shiny, so I was envisioning a fat, brown, gleaming loaf of caraway-speckled bread.

I learned that if you mix up cornstarch and water but forget to heat it to a boil, it doesn't make the bread shiny. In fact, it seems to have the reverse effect. At least, something made this bread refuse to brown. I finally took it out of the oven because it had been baking for over twice as long as it was supposed to; even allowing for the fact that it was bigger than the recipe's one-pound loaf, it still was behaving oddly.

Not only did it have a dull matte finish, but the little slashes I made on top of the bread expanded so that the bread looked like it had exploded. My poor bread was kind of an ugly duckling. But I covered it in plain brown wrapping and sneaked it inside the Beiers' house; then I sliced it before anyone could see its oddity. It tasted pretty good though. Curiously, the more wine we drank, the better the bread tasted.
A few days later, I made another loaf. This time I took out 1.2 pounds and made a torpedo-shape loaf. I used my LaCloche bread baker, and I remembered to boil the cornstarch wash.

I think this is more what it's supposed to look like. And the slashes looked more normal too.

By now the dough had been in the refrigerator for about a week, so it had a little more tang, but it was by no means funky.
I'm always a little apprehensive about looking at the dough that's been hanging out in the refrigerator for a while--afraid of what I might see. So far, I've seen nothing but bread dough. Which is what I saw on Sunday, a week and four days after I made the original dough: a small amount of normal looking caraway rye dough. In fact, it was small enough that I thought a loaf of bread would look pathetic, so instead, I made four rye dinner rolls.

I thought the rolls were the most successful of the three variations I made, even though there were only a few of them. They were the prettiest--the cornstarch wash actually worked and the slashes didn't deform the bread.

The sad news is that Loaf #1 is gone; Loaf #2 is gone; and Rolls #3-6 are gone. I've been so busy at work that I haven't had time to make more bread, so I'm reduced to having my morning toast with store-bought bread, which makes me glum. I hear my mother's voice reminding me that the starving children in China (I know that some mothers talked about the starving children in India or Africa, but my mother's were always in China) would be grateful for that bread, and I get that whining about not having homemade bread is unattractive, but still. I hope I have time to make some of the real stuff this weekend.

Deli-Style Rye

--adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
3 c. (709 grams) water
1 1/2 T. (14.4 grams) instant yeast
1 1/2 T. (25 grams) salt
1 1/2 T. (15 grams) caraway seeds
1 cup (130 grams) rye flour
5 1/2 cups (771 grams) all-purpose flour.

1. Mix the yeast, salt, and caraway seeds with the water in a large mixing bowl.

2. Mix in the remaining dry ingredients with a spoon or a stand mixer, using the dough hook.

3. Cover (not airtight), and allow to rest about two hours, or until the dough rises and starts to fall.

4. Refrigerate in a container (not airtight) and use within 14 days.

5. When ready to bake, cut off the amount you want to use (one pound will make a smallish loaf. Shape into whatever shape you want, and allow to rest and rise, 40 minutes to an hour, on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.

6. Preheat oven to 450, with baking stone placed on middle rack.

7. Paint the top crust with cornstarch (mix 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch with a small amount of water to make a paste; add 1/2 cup water, stir, and bring to boil). Make cuts into top of loaf with slashing knife, razor blade, or serrated bread knife.

8. Place baking pan on hot stone. For a better crust, either pour 1 cup boiling water into another baking sheet on another rack, or put about 1/2 cup ice cubes on preheated baking sheet or skillet on rack below the bread.

9. Bake about 35 minutes for one-pound loaf, longer for a larger loaf, and less for rolls.

10. Let cool on cooling rack before cutting.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Bara Brith - a Lazy Bakers Project

Sunday, March 1, 2008

Bara Brith is a Welsh bread that was suggested by Jeannette, who is Welsh herself. I never heard of it, and I have a hard time remembering its name. I keep wanting to call it B'nai Brith, which is something else altogether. And Jeannette has never made it herself, despite being Welsh, because she buys it at bakeries, like normal Welsh people do.
I had a few other projects ahead of this one, so I wasn't planning to try it for a while. And I got an email from Jeannette, saying she'd given this recipe a try and wasn't that impressed with it, so that moved it down a few places. But, quite by accident I discovered that March 1 (today!) is St. David's Day, so of course I had to make Welsh bread on St. David's Day.
As you may know, St. David is the patron saint of Wales, so St. David's day is a big deal. Men are supposed to wear leeks on their lapels (yes, that is correct), although apparently some wimpy men are now wearing daffodils instead of leeks. I asked Jim if he would be willing to have his picture taken wearing a leek, but he demurred. How about just a scallion? No, definitely not, he said.
Jeannette said that the recipe she had found needed something to give it more flavor--more rising time, or something. So I started looking around to see if I could find other recipes more like what she had in mind. There was a lot on the internet that didn't look especially good, but I found something interesting right in my own back yard. My newest cookbook--How to Bake, by Nick Malgieri, has a recipe for Bara Brith ("speckled bread" in Welsh) and variants for Barm Brack (speckled bread in Irish), as well as Selkirk Bannock (you-know-what in Scottish). Malgieri's version, from Maura Laverty's Traditional Irish Cook Book, has a sponge, a rise, a rest, and another rise--enough steps, I hoped, to develop some taste.
An immediate problem was that all recipes for Bara Brith call for something labeled "mixed peel." I figured this was something like what we generally call candied fruit, and put only in fruitcake at Christmas because we (Americans) don't much like it. It's not readily available in non-fruitcake season, although in Great Britain, the biggest consumer of mixed peel, it's apparently around all the time. I could have ordered some, but not in time for St. David's Day. I could have made my own, which I (briefly) considered. Or I could substitute. I decided to add some dried cranberries to the golden raisins and currants called for. Once I'd decided on that, the rest was easy.

First, I mixed up the sponge--just milk, water, yeast, and bread flour. While that was bubbling, I covered the dried fruit with boiling water, drained it, and set it on paper towels to dry.

Everything but the fruit is mixed together, and the dough does a first rise sans fruit, which is then added and mixed in after the dough has doubled in size.

It's a little hard to get an even distribution of the fruit by kneading and folding it--if I did it again, I think I'd just mix it in right away.

Jeannette's recipe made a big free-form loaf, but Malgieri says you should put it in loaf pans for an authentic Barm Brack. (Jeannette, is he just making this up?) I'm pretty sure that Malgieri is not a Welsh name.

Supposedly, the bread takes 45 minutes to bake. I baked it for 30 minutes, and it was very brown and completely done.

I had to pick off some burned fruit from the outside of the bread, but everything that was hidden inside stayed moist and tasty. In fact, this was a much better bread than I was expecting. It's quite lovely--very tender and soft, with a buttery, spicy taste--almost like a fruited, spiced brioche. British recipes call for something called "mixed spice," which we also don't have. Malgieri's recipe specifies a mixed of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice--if you wanted to do a mix, you could probably use a pumpkin pie mix.

You can see that the fruit isn't quite evenly mixed in, although that's not a critical error.
I know it's not comme il faut to use another recipe when we're all supposed to be doing the same project, but, after all, this is a No Rules Club. Happy St. David's Day!


6 oz. whole milk
4 oz. water
4 tsp. instant yeast
7.7 oz. bread flour

4 oz. golden raisins (or Sultanas)
3 oz. currants
2 oz. dried cranberries (or mixed peel)
3 oz. unsalted butter, softened
2.5 oz. light brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. allspice
2 large eggs
15 oz. all-purpose flour

1. Make the sponge. Heat milk and water until just warm. Pour into a small bowl, whisk in the yeast, and stir in the flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, 30 minutes or so.
2. Combine fruit in a saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Drain fruit and spread it in a single layer on paper towels.
3. Using a paddle attachment, beat butter with sugar, salt and spices until soft and smooth. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Mix in spounge and flour. With dough hook, knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about five minutes.
4. Put dough in oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow dough to rise until doubled, about one hour.
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Distribute the fruit on the dough and knead it in evenly. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.
6. Divide dough in half and shape to fit two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 loaf pans. Let rise another hour until doubled.
7. Bake at 400 until well risen and golden brown, 30-45 minutes.
8. Unmold and cool on rack.

While I am talking about Nick Malgieri, I must give a quick mention of another recipe from this book--his pecan chocolate bars. I had investment club at my house, and I wanted something delicious enough that we would forget the drubbing we've been taking on the stock market lately. These bars, with cocoa, bittersweet chocolate, caramel, and tons of pecans, were just the thing! We even bought some new stock at a bargain price, and were all quite cheerful at the end of the evening. There was also some wine involved.