Tuesday, March 25, 2014

multi-grain bread

I don’t know about you, but, whenever I hear someone talking about multi-grain bread, I think of the Dead Duck scene in the movie About a Boy. Young Marcus (the boy) has been given a home made multigrain loaf so dense and stale that he gives up trying to tare it up in order to feed the birds, that he heaves the whole loaf into the pond, accidentally killing a duck. Whether this resonates with you or not, we’ve all encountered those leaden offerings so dry and gritty that even a thick slathering with butter can’t lubricate it enough to swallow.

While still being a lean dough, this bread is predominantly made from bread flour with the additions of a multigrain soaker and a proportion of whole wheat flour. Unlike many loaves of its ilk, it is a pleasure to eat toasted or in the right sandwich.

Whether your mixing by hand or by machine, it will take additional time to develop a good gluten structure in the dough. Bran, no matter how finely ground, tends to cut through gluten strands, and the soaked grains compound the issue. It is, absolutely possible, but will require a little more effort than a standard “patent” flour dough. If you haven’t built up much endurance for kneading by hand I recommend making the dough in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. It will still take 8 – 10 minutes to sufficiently work to the dough to develop the gluten.

I did not pursue this step in this recipe, but an autolysis stage may help to reduce the kneading time. My recommendation, and what I am planning to attempt the next time I make this recipe, is to mix the final dough roughly, and then allowing it to sit to fully hydrate and begin forming a gluten structure. About 30 minutes should do the trick, before you begin to work the dough.  

*A traditional autolyse method would have you withhold the yeast and salt until after the resting and hydration stage. This dough already has a soaker component and a pâte fermentée so both yeast and salt are already present, and the small additional amounts applied before the autolysis stage won’t harm gluten development.

Recipe following cut:

morning glory muffins

I wish I invented these muffins, but I didn’t. A nice lady, and Chef, by the name of Pam McKinstry, came up with them in 1978 on Nantucket Island. The recipe was first published in Gourmet Magazine in 1981, and a quick search will reveal as many variations as there are cooks. These, are a correlation of multiple recipes I’ve come across and I think they’re the best…even if I haven’t tried all the rest.

I use these as a healthful or at least beneficial combination of meal replacement and energy bar, and you don’t even need to break out your chemistry set to make them. And maybe healthful, beneficial, and meal replacement sound like disappointing diet food, but I assure you they are anything but. Full of tart apple flavor, the earthy sweetness of coconut, dried cherries, carrots, and almonds, accented by salty sunflower seeds, these pack both a nutritive and flavor punch that is 100% crave-able.

Raisins are traditional, but for a Michigan twist I substitute dried cherries. I’ve also tried dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds for a seasonal twist. You can likewise substitute any equal weight of your favorite nuts for the almonds. It’s all good.

Recipe following cut:

Monday, March 17, 2014

sing out louise

I hadn’t planned to take Spring Break off from the kitchen or this blog, but I accept that I probably needed the rest more than I needed to work on my pate a choux technique. The plan was to get a bunch of baking done, the reality was me doing as little as possible to still put food on the table and stick – roughly - to my lifestyle plan.

Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, but today I cooked Corned Beef and Cabbage with fresh homemade Soda Bread. I had to drive some distance to get to the nearest Wholelfoods to pick up a nitrite and nitrate free brisket, and it was $10 more than anything I could get in town, but it was worth it to be able to serve up one of my husband’s favorite seasonal treats without making us sick. By sick, I don’t mean having a long term negative effect on our health, I mean sick in the immediate sense of the word. Next year, the plan is to get ahead and cure - or corn - my own. For this year; however, it just was not possible.

I’ve spent a good deal of time  worrying about this blog. It seems to me, that these days you have to have a gimmick to get any attention at all. Whether it’s being a Beer Bitch, or having an encyclopedic knowledge of every Pizza in Pittsburg, or cooking up vegan vittles in full Death Metal costume, it seems the more peculiar the twist the more attention it receives. The trouble is this is cooking, not burlesque, and this blog has no gimmick. It’s just me and an ordinary home kitchen, doing my best to cook and serve delicious and healthy meals to my family while also learning the art of bread, and pastry baking.  Frankly, I haven’t got the energy to try to maintain something more attention-grabbing, and it wouldn’t be true to myself or my approach to food if I did. 

I am a slow food guy. I believe in referencing the past and eating whole real food: reared, produced, and cooked with care. It takes time. It is real work. It has actual value. No Gimmicks! I have a tremendous amount of respect for those chefs who are trying to push the boundaries, but a perfectly constructed morsel suspended in a smoke filled cloche just isn’t the food that will hold up to the test of time. Cucina Povera, Cuisine de Grand-Mere, this is the stuff that we’ve eaten for hundreds if not thousands of years and we still enjoy, crave, and are comforted by, today.

So ok, this might be the Gypsy Rose Louise of the blog world. Tessie Tura, Miss Mazzeppa, and Miss Electra may have a fun song that always brings down the house, but no one wrote a whole score about them either. This blog, and I, are only part of a bigger story. One that, I hope, continues to be told. Of how we all turned back to real tangible values, put food and people first, and moved money and possessions back where they belong: further on down the list of priorities.   

Monday, March 10, 2014

cinnamon raisin bread

2 – 21.5cm x 11.5cm [8.5” x 4.5”] loaf pans, extra-large 7.5L – 11L [8qt – 12qt] capacity mixing bowl, large 6L [6.5qt] heatproof bowl, silicone basting brush, bench scraper, flexible bowl scraper, plastic wrap, 2 - 46cm x 30cm [18”x12“] half sheet pan, 46cm x 30cm x 5cm [18”x 12“ x 2”]500ml [2 cup] capacity measuring cup with a pouring spout, 2 - 500ml [2 cup] capacity small mixing bowl, minimum 60ml [¼ cup] capacity microwave safe bowl or stove top butter warmer, spray bottle with water, 1.5L [1.6qt] capacity saucepan, fine mesh sieve ~ 500ml capacity [2 cups]

460g unbleached bread flour [~3½ cups]
20g granulated sugar [~4 tsp]
10g fine grade sea salt [~1¼ cups]
7g instant yeast [~2 tsp]
4g ground cinnamon [~1¼ cups]
57g egg, lightly beaten [~1 x-large]
30g unsalted butter, melted and cooled [~2 tbsp]
120g buttermilk, at room temperature [~½ cup] 130ml
170g water, at room temperature** [~¾ cup] 170ml
260g raisins* [~1½ cups]

110g granulated sugar
15g ground cinnamon

-canola or vegetable oil for bowl, work surface, and plastic wrap
-unsalted butter to grease the loaf pans

*Rehydrate raisins after weighing.

Mise en place:
Bring the weighed raisins to a boil in enough water to cover. Turn off the burner and allow them to rehydrate for ten minutes. **Pour into sieve, reserving the water to use in the dough. Allow the raisins to sit and drain until needed. Water should cool to minimum 35ºC [95ºF] before using.

Butter the loaf pans and place together on half-sheet pan.

Weigh flour, sugar, sea salt, yeast and 4g cinnamon into the extra-large bowl, keeping the salt and yeast separate. Place this on a clear and clean work surface.

Melt butter in the small bowl for 30 seconds in the microwave and set aside to cool.

Weight/measure buttermilk into one of the measuring cups, add egg, and butter and beat slightly to combine.

Weigh/measure the cooled raisin water into the second measuring cup and set aside. Add tap water if needed to equal the required amount of liquid.

Oil the heat proof bowl and set aside until needed.

Place additional flour near the extra-large mixing bowl, alone with the bowl and bench scrapers.

Combine 110g granulated sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside until needed.

Place the deep sheet pan on the bottom rack of the oven, and adjust the top shelf to the middle position.

Stir the flour mixture together with the fingers of one hand slightly spread. Move the mixed flour to the outside of the bowl creating a well in the center.

Add buttermilk mixture. Using the same hand as before, stir the ingredients together using an orbital motion, turning the bowl with your clean hand.

Add the water and continue to mix as above until you have formed a ragged dough.

Switch to a kneading action, collecting all of the available flour from the interior of the bowl. If needed use a bowl scraper to help you.

Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead for 10 minutes, or until a smooth ball forms that is tacky but not sticky.

Spread the kneaded dough out on the counter and top with the plumped and drained raisins. Fold this over itself once and begin kneading for an additional 2 minutes.

Place finished dough into the oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and ferment for 2 full hours at room temperature.

Lightly oil your work surface and tip the fermented dough out. Divide the dough into two even pieces by cutting it with a bench scraper. Shape these into two rectangles and cover with oiled plastic wrap. Rest 10 minutes.

Using a lightly oiled rolling pin, shape the dough into a rectangle 22cm x 30cm [9” x 12”]. Carefully sprinkle with half of the cinnamon sugar mixture leaving a 1cm [½”] boarder around the outside of the rectangle.

Roll the dough away from you to form a log, pinch the bottom and sides together to fully enclose the cinnamon swirl. Place in buttered loaf pan and repeat with the second piece of dough.

Cover with oiled plastic wrap and proof 90 – 120 minutes until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 180ºC [350ºF]

Slash loves to allow for oven spring and pour 250ml of water on the deep sheet pan in the oven.

After 1 minute, spray the sides of the oven with the spray bottle and close the door. Repeat this twice waiting 1 minute in between repetitions.

Bake for a total of 40 – 50 minutes.

Transfer loaves immediately to a wire cooling wrack and cool for minimum one hour before slicing.

Make ahead:

Loaves keep for five days in an air tight container or zip top bag. Frozen the loaves will last up to one month, but they rarely last out the week. 

a little rest for the wicked

Weigh in: 252 lbs.

The high today was 46ºF. I’ve been enjoying a little rest for the past couple of days, relying on old faithful but boring dinners to keep everyone fed with minimal effort. I am very sore from working out, I know, I’ve mentioned it before, but with all seriousness, OW! Tonight it’s back to the treadmill but I don’t think I’ll be doing any weight training for a few days.

Tomorrow I’ll be back in the kitchen in earnest. Potage Noir for dinner, and I’m making Morning Glory Muffins and if I can manage it, a Chocolate and Stout Cake. Wednesday, it’s Brioche and pate a choux.

The Cinnamon Raisin bread I made this weekend is more than half gone, as is the boule. I guess it’s time to make more.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

spring forward gently

Yesterday I made another French Boule just to be sure that the first one wasn’t a fluke. I’m proud to say it was not. I also made Cinnamon Raisin Bread. We had breakfast for dinner.

In my last journal entry I was talking about self induced pain and suffering, and since then I’ve gone back for more. Making bread by hand is, in itself, a fairly descent core workout, but apparently I’m a glutton for punishment. True, I’ve been complaining and whimpering this past week but it is remarkable how much cardiovascular and weight training do to help me cope with daily life.

I am not, I can assure you, going to turn into some roughage eating gym monkey any time soon, but it’s clear from everything I’ve done in my forty-five years on this planet, my body and mind are happiest when I move. Whether or not I can use a long genetic lineage of peasants, servants, and fisherment as a reason, the release of Cortisol is essential to my well being. 

I had a vegetarian burrito at a chain restaurant for dinner tonight. I had been planning a vegetable stir fry but life, and my in-laws, had other plans. Spring break is only two days old, I’m behind on the baking projects I wanted to complete, and I’m planning to take tomorrow off from the kitchen to work on  laundry etc. 

Spring forward tonight: I’ve never been a fan of Daylight Savings Time.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

orange sweet rolls

Yeild: 12 large rolls

46cm x 30cm [13” x 18”] half sheet pans, parchment paper, rolling pin, large 7.5L – 11L [8qt – 12qt] capacity mixing bowl, 3.3L [3.5qt] capacity mixing bowl, 6.5L [7qt] capacity heat proof bowl, 500ml [2 cup] capacity mixing bowl, 500ml [2 cup] capacity measuring cup with a spout, 60ml [¼ cup] capacity measuring cup with spout, silicone pastry brush, 20cm [8”] sharp chef’s knife, 20cm [8”] offset pallet knife, wire whisk, silicone spatula, 30ml [2 tbsp] pinch bowl, fine microplane grater, large wire cooling rack ~40cm x 50cm [15” x 20”]

90g granulated sugar [~6½ tbsp]
7g fine grade sea salt [~1 tsp]
80g unsalted butter, at room temperature [~5½ tbsp]
50g egg, at room temperature [~1 large]
3g orange extract [~1 tsp] 5ml
460g unbleached bread flour [~3½ tbsp]
8g instant yeast [~2 tsp]
290g buttermilk, at room temperature [1¼ cups] 290ml

110g light brown sugar [~½ cup packed]
16g orange zest [~⅓ cup] *from ~ 4 oranges

180g confectioner’s sugar [~3cups]
40g milk [~3 tbsp] 40ml
3g orange extract [~1 tsp] 5ml

-vegetable or canola oil
-additional flour for dusting

Mise en place:
Weigh butter and sugar into the large mixing bowl and set on a clear work surface.

Weigh flour into the medium mixing bowl. Weigh salt and then yeast in the pinch bowl and transfer to opposite sides of the mixing bowl. Set this on the work surface beside the larger bowl.

Reuse pinch bowl to weight orange extract, and place with others.

Oil the heat proof bowl and set aside until needed.

Weigh butter milk into the 500ml capacity measuring cup and set beside the mixing bowl.

Weight the egg into the 60ml measuring cup and set with the other weighed ingredients.

Using the spatula cream the butter and sugar together until pale, add egg and beat vigorously to incorporate air and blanch the mixture.

Add the orange extract.

Mix the flour, salt, and yeast together with one hand and immediately add these to the creamed mixture in one addition.

With the fingers of one hand slightly spread, use an orbital motion to mix the flour into the butter and sugar mixture turning the bowl with your clean hand. Add buttermilk and mix until dough forms a sticky loose mass. Switch to a kneading motion to incorporate all of the flour and then transfer dough to a floured work surface.

Knead the dough for 12 – 15 minutes, alternating before a traditional kneading motion and stretching and “smearing” the dough in all directions – called Fraisage. The finished dough should be tacky to slightly sticky, supple, and bounce back when pressed with a finger.

Transfer to the oiled heat proof bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and ferment at room temperature for 2 full hours.

Meanwhile, zest oranges and weigh the brown sugar into the cleaned medium mixing bowl.

When dough has doubled in size, very lightly oil a clear work surface and transfer the dough to the counter.

Lightly flour a rolling pin to prevent sticking and roll the dough into a 36cm x 30cm x 1.5cm [14” x 12” x ⅔ inch] rectangle. If dough springs back excessively, cover with oiled plastic wrap and rest for 10 minutes before continuing to roll into shape.

Quickly mix the brown sugar and orange zest and sprinkle over the dough. Use an offset pallet knife to spread the mixture evenly over the dough leaving 1cm [½”] uncovered on the edge closest to your body

Roll the dough gently towards from you and pinch the seam closed. Roll dough onto the seam and cover with oiled plastic wrap. Allow to rest 5 minutes.

Cut into 12 even pieces 3cm [1⅛”] and place these 1cm [½”] apart on the sheet tray.

Cover with oiled plastic wrap and allow to proof for 75 – 90 minutes

Preheat oven to 180ºC [350ºF] with the rack in the middle position.

Bake the sweet rolls for 20 – 30 minutes until lightly browned.

Cool on pan for 10 minutes and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Make the glaze: Mix confectioner’s sugar, orange extract, and milk together to form a thick glaze that will evenly coat the sweet rolls. Adjust texture with additional milk or confectioner’s sugar as needed.

Spoon glaze over cooled sweet rolls, and allow to set before serving. Approximately 30 minutes.

Make ahead:

Store in an airtight container for up to one week. Reheat individual servings, as needed, in a microwave for 15 – 30 seconds before serving. 

blueberry lemon scones

What can I say about scones? Being a descendant of both English and Scottish heritage scones are prolific in my childhood memories. Just sweet enough to be a dessert but not so sweet you feel guilty eating them as a late afternoon snack. Clotted cream, butter, and jam may be traditional, but these need no adornment at all.

These cream scones have a texture and crumb most American’s associate with biscuits, and are, in fact, more New England than United Kingdom in style. They are rich with butter and lightly sweet, but the tart blueberries and lemon gaze balance that nicely. They are, quite simply, addictive with a cup of tea or any hot caffeinated beverage you choose.

Recipe following cut:

french boule

What the heck is a pâte fermentée? In American English we’d call it a starter. For me, however, that nomenclature has always conjured the notion of wild yeast sour dough breads, which I love, but which this is not. A pâte fermentée is a semi-stiff dough that is fermented for a long period time to improve flavor and stability in lean bread doughs. In contrast to other pre-fermenting methods this is, in ratio at least, a smaller version of the finished dough which is fermented first at room temperature and then stored under refrigeration for between 4 or 5 hours up to over night.

I’ve been making sandwich style breads for a while now. This is my very first, free form bread so I started with the simplest shape, a ball or boule. When I am confident that the results above are not beginners luck, I will move on to the torpedo or Bâtard style, and eventually to the quintessential French bread Baguettes.

Recipe following cut:

self induced pain and suffering

Thursday began at 5:00am, but not on purpose. I tried to sleep until my alarm but my right hip and left shoulder had other ideas. After catching up on the news, via BBC World Service, and with no sign of getting sleepy again, I made some tea. Since I was up, with time to kill, I decided to prepare dinner. I may be flat out exhausted when I get home but at least I won’t have to cook.

Today is also Shrove Tuesday, though perhaps more famous as Pancake Day, Paczki Day, and Mardi Gras. I attended a catholic grade school, and remember our teachers serving the whole school pancakes the day before lent. My Lenten fast may have gone out the window with the rest of my faith, but I do remember Shrove Tuesday as a fun day, that as kids we looked forward to. In honor of that memory, I made pancakes for the family which sufficed as both breakfast and lunch.

I am looking forward to dinner. A Sweet Potato and Lentil Stew with the full body of tomatoes spiced with curry powder and garam masala. Meanwhile, I’ve been busy writing up my recipes from last weekend and planning my next adventure with bread, by which I mean, I bought a traditional fluted brioche mold.


Dinner last night was delicious, and good thing too because I have four quarts of it in the freezer!

I managed to drag my tired self to the gym last night with the intention of doing cardio and a little weight lifting, nothing too strenuous. I felt pretty good when I was done, but I could tell my muscles were fatigued. Today, is another story: I am currently wearing a cap because washing and combing my hair seemed like too painful a task.

Sore as I am, I am also feeling good about finally ripping off the bandage and going. It will, at least theoretically, be easier to go next time. Like all things, I have this idea that I must do a full-on workout every time to make it worth the effort of leaving the house. I need to learn that anything I can do will be beneficial.

Fitness is part of the “fuck it, I’m going to make bread,” plan. At 45 I know I am not old, but I do need to condition my body to be as fit and strong as possible. Otherwise I’ll be signing up for a livelihood of long hours and near chronic pain.

I’ve written up four recipes in the past day or so and will post those as soon as I’ve had the opportunity to put a fresh pair of eyes on them. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

practice, practice, practice

I’ve been going through a bit of a crisis the past six months, mostly in relation to my forty-fifth birthday, which is fast approaching. Intellectually, I know I shouldn’t measure my own life by anyone’s expectations, least of all those expectations I improvised when I was too young to know better. But, it isn’t uncommon for people to reach this age and feel unhappy with where they are, what they’ve achieved, and to some extent what do and don’t have. These are, I’ll admit the ne plus ultra of first world problems. I’m embarrassed to call it a mid-life crisis, but that is what it is. I’ve felt lost, discontented, and worried about what I’m going to be able to achieve with the little time I may have left.  Fortunately, or unfortunately – take your pick - I have an uncommon amount of time to contemplate what I want from my own life, and what I really need to fell content and fulfilled, but there comes a time when just have to suck it up and make a decision.

There are times in life when things fall into place and you feel as if the whole universe is pointing you in the direction you should be going: this is exactly what occurred for me this weekend. As I’ve written; I am happiest when I’m fully engaged, mentally and physically in a task. I have always been attracted to occupations that involve using my hands and creativity for my whole life, and this impulse likely goes as deep as my DNA. I have been reading, studying, and writing about food and cooking full time for years now. Some days I feel as if I don’t have an idea what I am doing, and others I’m more confident I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. Now, however, I need to find a way to transition all this learning into some kind of means, by which I mean, money! The answer came to me in one of those rare crystalline moments when I was laying in a half awake state and a voice from deep inside me spoke up and said, “fuck it all, I’m going to make bread.”

OK so not that simple. I have wanted to go to culinary school for baking and pastry, and I still intend to fulfill that dream someday. In the mean time, however, there is nothing stopping me from teaching myself everything I can. I also have a core need to write which I do not intend to disregard. The two are not mutually exclusive. The plan, so far, is to focus this blog and my energies towards making artisanal breads, and pastries. I will be reporting about this process and all the other things that go on in the kitchen, but I will – at least recipe wise – be focused on baking.

As important as I think home cooking and care of the family are vital to a good life, it isn’t economically feasible for me to continue to stay home indefinitely. I’ve spent a great deal of time writing about this in an editorial that I’ll be posting here later so I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag just yet.

The trick, for me, will be keeping my balance, which has never been strong suit. I have a tendency to throw myself totally into whatever I do and when the rewards aren’t commensurate with the effort I’m putting forward, I end up burning out and moving on to a new obsession. Anyone who’s known me for a long time can verify this pattern, and if nothing else comes of this life, I’d like to learn how to break that habit.

At some point, I hope to sell these goods at a local farmers or flea market, or possibly to area restaurants, with an eye on creating a small and sustainable business for myself. In the mean time, however, I just need to practice, practice, practice.

Worst case scenario: I learn to make artisanal breads and pastry for my family and friends. ‘nuff said!

Today’s weigh in: 254lb. Sticking to the lifestyle changes, as far as our diet goes, is starting to feel a little more natural, the trouble of getting myself to the gym still needs to be solved. Then again, perhaps I should give myself a break: I’ve been out shoveling snow every other day for most of the winter. For that reason, I’ve changed the banner of this blog to spring even if it is dressed for the date on the calendar and not the weather outside my door.