Monday, December 3, 2012

A healthy levain

Recently, a reader asked me if her levain (sourdough starter) was healthy, because after feeding it looked more like "the surface of the moon" than the bubbling, foaming mixture often described by baking writers (possibly including me at some point). I promised to post pictures of my own levain post-feeding (2-4 hours) for comparison, so here they are:

In this first photo, you can see lots of small bubbles, some breaking the surface. This is a nice, healthy levain.



My next example, from a different feeding a few days later, is less active, but still quite happy.

As to how much to feed the starter: well, it depends. I usually give my quart-to-quart-and-a-half starter about 150 grams each of flour and water, but if the starter seems to little tired, I'll give more (or toss more before feeding). And I try to feed every week. If you're not baking with a levain yet, I encourage you to give it a try. 52 Loaves has detailed instructions, or for a short primer, see this page. Good luck!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Post-Sandy comfort loaf



We're one of the lucky ones -- power restored after three days -- and pretty much the first thing I did (after a hot shower) was make a multigrain loaf of peasant-y, yeasty, crusty bread, with my 16-year-old levain (aka "starter"), stone-ground cornmeal, flaxseed meal, pecans, and whatever else I could dig up that said "comfort" and "health."

Concerned about getting good gluten formation and a decent rise, given all the non-glutenous stuff I was adding, I made this loaf very wet, as you can see from the photograph.

It's a little sticky to work with, but I was rewarded with a wonderful, airy crumb. This is a truly good bread. If you've never worked with a levain, here's a perfect excuse. The recipe to build your own is here or can buy a premade starter from King Arthur flour.

Best wishes to everyone who was in the path of the storm. Here's some comfort food:

Post-Sandy Multigrain Comfort Bread
300 grams unbleached all-purpose or bread flour
260 grams levain (see Building a Levain

25 grams stone-ground whole-grain corn meal
20 grams corn flour
50 grams rye flour
80 grams whole wheat flour
10 grams flaxseed meal
35 grams walnuts or pecans, broken in half
13 grams salt
3/8 teaspoon instant yeast 
310 grams water (room temp)

    Prepare the dough

  1. At least 2 hours before beginning (you can do this the night before), feed levain as follows: Remove levain from refrigerator and add equal parts flour and room-temperature water (I use about 130 g each, which replenishes what I'll be using in the bread). Stir/whip well, incorporating oxygen, and leave on the countertop, with the cover slightly ajar. Starter should be bubbling and lively when you begin your bread.
  2. Place a large bowl on your scale and zero out the scale. Now add the flours, one at a time, zeroing out the scale after each addition. Separately weigh and add the salt. Add the levain, a dash of instant yeast, the nuts, and the water.
  3. Mix thoroughly with a wet hand until the dough is homogeneous. Mist a piece of plastic wrap with vegetable oil spray, press it directly onto the dough, and leave the dough to autolyse (rest) for 20-25 minutes.

    Kneading and fermentation

  4. Knead by hand 7-9 minutes (see my kneading video if you've never kneaded before). If you insist, you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook for 2-3 minutes. Knead until dough is elastic and smooth.
  5. Clean out and dry the mixing bowl (no soap), mist with vegetable oil spray, and replace the dough. Place the oiled plastic wrap back onto the dough. Ferment at room temperature (68 -72 degrees is ideal) for 4 to 5 hours.

    Forming the loaf and proofing

  6. Place baking stone and old cast-iron pan or rimmed baking sheet in oven and preheat for at least an hour at oven's highest setting (I use 550).
  7. Place dough on well-floured countertop and divide in half. Form into batards, a sort of stubby, torpedo-shaped baguette. (There are numerous YouTube videos and books that illustrate how to do this). Place the loaves between the folds of a couche or parchment paper, cover and allow to proof for about 45 minutes.
  8. Turn loaves onto a peel, sprinkle tops with rice flour if you want a decorative dusting. Score loaves deeply lengthwise, at an angle, with a razor blade and slide loaves onto stone. Pour a cup of water (wear an oven mitt) into the pan.
  9. Lower oven temperature to 475 and bake for 20 minutes. Lower temperature to 450 and continue baking till loaves are a golden-to-dark brown (about another 15-20 minutes), and center of loaf is 210 degrees.
  10. Cool on racks. 


   



Friday, August 17, 2012

"My" bread wins first prize (mainly because I didn't make it)


A friend of 52 Loaves and All Things Bread, Barry Yatt of Arlington, Virginia, was recently awarded "Grand Champion" at the Arlington County Fair for, as he describes it, "a loaf that is basically your Pain Levain with flax and poppy." Readers of 52 Loaves may (or probably not) remember that my own pain au levain won only 2nd prize at the New York State Fair, so perhaps the lesson here is that is I should let others do the baking for me. So that you can bake this at home, Barry has kindly supplied the recipe. As he once mailed me a loaf (please note, readers, that I don't exactly encourage this, having made as many enemies as friends in my reckless pursuit of perfect bread), I can vouch that this is terrific bread. (Well, my taster can, at least).


       Congrats, Barry! Here's his recipe, which makes 4 loaves. Barry notes, without irony, that "Since it's mostly I who eat it, I freeze them until I finish the prior loaf, and then toast it or pop the whole loaf back in the oven for ten minutes." 
Grand Champion Pain au Levain with Flax and Poppy

Makes 4 loaves
 
750 grams levain (see my levain recipe)
750 grams all-purpose flour
112 grams whole wheat flour
38 grams rye flour
50 grams flax seed

517 grams water
25 grams salt
Poppy seeds for coating the loaves

    Prepare the dough

  1. At least 2 hours before beginning (you can do this the night before), feed levain as follows: Remove levain from refrigerator and add equal parts flour and room-temperature water. Stir/whip well, incorporating oxygen, and leave on the countertop, with the cover slightly ajar. Starter should be bubbling and lively when you begin your bread.
  2. Place a large bowl on your scale and zero out the scale. Add all ingredients except the poppy seeds.
  3. Mix thoroughly with a wet hand until the dough is homogeneous. Mist a piece of plastic wrap with vegetable oil spray, press it directly onto the dough, and leave the dough to autolyse (rest) for 20-25 minutes.

    Kneading and fermentation

  4. Knead by hand 7-9 minutes or use a stand mixer with a dough hook for 2-3 minutes. Knead until dough is elastic and smooth.
  5. Clean out and dry the mixing bowl (no soap), mist with vegetable oil spray, and replace the dough. Place the oiled plastic wrap back onto the dough. Ferment at room temperature (68 -72 degrees is ideal) for 4 to 5 hours.

    Form and proof the loaves

  6. Using your hand or a flexible pastry scraper, remove the dough to a floured countertop.      Create 4 oblong loaves (2 to 2-1/2 times as long as wide) by sliding a rectangular stainless steel dough scraper along the cutting board toward the center of the loaf from either side – maybe 3 to 6 quick jabs on each side, making it both narrower and taller and tightening the top skin. It also lets me work in a little flour between board and dough to reduce sticking before starting the proofing rise. 
  7. Then coat loaves with poppy seeds (I just very gently press them onto the surface)
  8. Cover with the same piece of plastic wrap and set aside to proof, support by the folds of a couche or folded parchment paper, 1½ to 2 hours. 
  9. While dough is proofing, place a baking stone in lower third of oven, and an old cast iron skillet or pan on the bottom shelf. Preheat oven to its highest setting.

    Score and bake

  10. After 1½ to 2 hours, when the dough is proofed (another term for the second rise), it should have increased in volume by about half, and feel slightly springy. Transfer each loaf to a peel that is liberally sprinkled with rice flour or corn meal (or covered with a piece of parchment paper, but note that the paper will burn if you preheat the oven to 550°F).
  11. After transferring to the peel, just before placing in the oven, slash with a lame or single-edged razor at a slight angle across the loaf, giving it 4 or 5 dramatic bars that contrast poppy crust against plain crust.
  12. Immediately slide loaf (including paper, if using parchment) onto stone and, wearing an oven mitt, add 1 cup water to skillet. Try to minimize the time the oven door is open.
  13. Set oven temperature to 480°F.
  14. After 20-25 minutes, or when loaves have turned dark brown, reduce oven temperature to 425°F.
  15. Bake until loaves register 210°F in center, about 35 to 45 minutes with an instant-read thermometer, or until a rap on the bottom of the loaf produces a hollow, drum-like sound.
  16. Remove bread to a rack and cool for at least 2 hours before serving.




Monday, July 16, 2012

Banana Bread, maligned and revisited

Visitors to my Bread Doctor page, where I take (and even sometimes answer) questions on bread, may have noticed replies from me such as "I said...NO MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT BANANA BREAD!!" as well as a recently-added rule barring further BB (as we'll refer to it henceforth) queries. I was driven to ban BB (although that hasn't stopped people from continuing to ask questions) because a) I specialist in yeast breads and know nothing about BB; and b) I've never had a BB that didn't stick in your throat and wasn't and either too banana-y or too dull, and I just don't understand the passion for it.

Which brings us to Amanda, who operates a small microbakery out of her home in Gainesville, Fl.and blogs from bakerbaker.net.

Amanda wrote me in defense of BB, in particular, hers, which makes up 40% of her sales, and which, she assures me, is sublime. Furthermore, she has generously offered to share her recipe here. I haven't yet tried it, but I will. A couple of unusual things drew my attention: The 1/2 cup of vegetable oil, which should give it the moistness of, say, pumpkin bread, and the 1/2 cup of apple sauce. Note also the interesting note at the end: peaks at day 2 or 3. So without further ado, I give you BakerBaker's Banana Bread. (But in case you're wondering, I'm not changing my policy on Bread Doctor: no more BB questions!!)


Amanda's Banana Bread from BakerBaker


2 cups all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

2 eggs
1  cup sugar 
4 ripe bananas (I've used everything from almost green to black, frozen bananas)
1 tsp vanilla (I use mexican vanilla from Cozumel)
1/2 cup vegetable oil (or canola, but not butter)
1/2 cup applesauce, natural - no added sugars
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4-1/2 cup chopped, toasted walnuts plus a small amount for topping

Whisk together the first four ingredients in a large bowl. Cream eggs and sugar in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, add bananas and mix until they are broken up well. Add vanilla, oil, applesauce, cinnamon, and nutmeg to banana mixture. Add flour mixture and mix very lightly, just until most of the flour is wet. Then mix by hand until all the flour is wet, Make sure to go all the way to the bottom of the mixing bowl in a "folding" action. Add nuts, if desired. The mixture will be very loose and chunky. The key to great banana bread is being able to adjust for "dry" bananas at this time. Right at this point, it is very much like making yeast breads!

Pour into a greased loaf pan(this will make a nice large loaf) or some into a loaf pan and then finish the batter off in muffin tins. Fill to 2/3 of your chosen pan and, if desired, sprinkle with un-toasted reserved walnuts. Bake at 350 F until done ~ 1 hour. It will be golden brown and will spring back when gently pressed with your finger. Let cool for 5 minutes and then remove from the pan to cool completely. 

This amazing bread will continue to moisten as it rests, peaking at about day 2-3.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Warm-weather baking

With the temperature up near 90 every day here in the mid-Hudson Valley, I've still had a hankering to bake, but not to crank the oven up to 500 for a couple of hours. The solution is the delicious seasoned Armenian crackers called lavash, that bake at only 350 for 20 or so minutes. The recipe is adapted from Peter Reinhart's The Bread-Baker's Apprentice (so the measurements are in ounces, not grams). My touch is to substitute some sourdough (or levain). But you can make it with just flour. (see note)



Recipe:

5.25 ounces all purpose flour
3 ounces levain (see my recipe for levain
.13 ounce salt
1/2 teas. instant yeast
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 ounces water
Assorted seeds and seasonings: E.g., sesame, poppy, and flax seeds, paprika, coarse sea salt, whatever you like

NOTE: If not using levain, increase flour to 6.75 ounces and water to 3.5 ounces.

  1. Combine all ingredients. Dough should be tight, but if crumbly add a bit more water, a tablespoon at a time.
  2. Knead for 10 minutes. The dough should be silky and smooth, a lovely dough to work with.
  3. Ferment in bowl covered with plastic wrap, at room temp for 2 to 2-1/2 hours
  4. Preheat oven to 350 deg. F.
  5. Press out into a rectangle on a floured countertop, then roll out as evenly as possible to fit a standard sheet pan (do not use an insulated cookie sheet). You may have to occasionally pick up and move the dough or let it rest a few minutes if it keeps snapping back. Take your time and get the dough as paper-thin as possible.
  6. Cover the sheet pan with parchment paper and transfer the dough, stretching out by hand to fit. Trim any dough that hangs over the edge.
  7. Lightly mist the dough with water, and sprinkle with alternating rows of seeds and seasonings, overlapping slightly. Press seeds into dough with your hands
  8. Bake in center of oven 15-20 minutes until crackers just start to brown.
  9. Remove from oven and cool on rack.
  10. Break into shards and serve.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Flying breadbox


Well, this is pretty funny. British Airways is running an ad campaign saying they found a star baker with a "secret recipe" to keep rolls fresh at 30,000 feet. (BTW, those are BA's rendering of dinner-roll clouds above, not Post Honey Bunches or peanut clusters)

Wow!  A couple of things:

1. The fact that they are trying to lure you aboard their planes with the promise of fresh dinner rolls is, to a baking enthusiast like myself, nothing short of fantastic. Bizarre, when you consider all the other facets of flying, but fantastic. As I wrote in the May issue of Saveur, the revolution has arrived.

2. Big deal. It's a challenge keeping bread fresh in a plane? Planes are kept extraordinarily dry (to keep rust at bay) and cool. Kind of like...hmm...what's the best analogy I can come up with... oh, like a breadbox! Really, a plane is really a flying breadbox. In fact, you may well feel like you've locked in a breadbox after an 8-hour flight to London.

So my note to British Airways. Thanks for thinking about the bread, but let me know when you've accomplished a really challenging feat -- like keep bread fresh for more than 4 hours in a New York August! (And putting my bags on the same plane as me.)
 

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