Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Pane di cereale—ancora una volta

I've made Hensperger's pane di cereale before and liked it a lot. Since I had biga left over from the semolina bread, I figured it was time to make this bread again. I used the same recipe as last time, but instead of 1 tsp each of salt & yeast, I used 3/4 each (probably scant for the salt). 1 tsp tastes better.

Pane di cereale

I accidentally let the dough stay in the bread machine for an hour or two longer than it should have, so I skipped the "stir it with your finger" rise in the machine. By the time I took the dough out, it was very, very high.

I gently shaped the dough with a bench knife, as directed, squishing out the largest air bubbles. However, I got nervous that the yeast would overextend itself, so I didn't let it rise the full 45 minutes. Maybe 10 minutes shy, I transferred it to a plate covered with cornmeal-sprinkled parchment paper. I then transferred the dough and paper to the oven, putting a pot on top of the dough for 20 minutes (as per Josey Baker's instructions).

I really like this bread, although this time when I ate it alone I really noticed how much salt I'd left out. Next time I'll use the full 1 tsp and just eat less bread.

l'interno del pane

For some reason, I felt impelled to have this bread with a little honey drizzled on it, something I haven't done in years. Delicious!

One step back

This Saturday we had a bunch of people to feed, so I baked two breads I'd made before and loved: Hensperger's semolina bread and Josey Baker's sesame bread. Both were good this time but not as great as before, and I'm trying to figure out why.

Side note: We finished up the Bohemian black bread, a great sandwich bread that lasted a long time. I'd made it Saturday or Sunday, and it was still good (even untoasted) through at least Friday. That recipe's a keeper, and I've moved it from the will probably make again list to the hall of fame list.

Back to the two breads, what didn't I like so much this time? The semolina bread didn't taste quite as amazing as before, probably because we weren't eating it warm. The sesame bread had a flying roof (love that term) and might've been a bit overbaked/undermoist; its texture wasn't as great as before.

Fixing the semolina bread should be simple: eat it warm, add a little more salt, and/or use an older biga. (I started the biga late Tuesday and baked the bread Saturday afternoon, so the biga was about 4 days old; the last time, the biga was 10 days old.)

Semolina bread

Whether you eat the semolina bread fresh out of the oven or after it cools, you want to eat it within a few hours of baking, since the crust isn't crackly-crunchy the next day.

Equipment note: I used a lame (bread scorer) for the first time. It worked great on the semolina, but not quite as well on the sesame, perhaps because the semolina dough has great surface tension by the time you cut it. The sesame bread, on the other hand, takes some shaping shortcuts, so it's a more relaxed piece of dough.

Fixing the sesame bread might be a little more complicated, since there are more variables. From start to finish, this bread took just under 3 days. (Previously it had taken 4 days and 1.5 days.) Here are some notes on the timing for this loaf, all of which seems to be within the range of what I did before:
  1. Make seed soaker & pre-ferment: Wednesday night
  2. Mix dough, rise 3 hours, refrigerate: Thursday morning (I had the morning off since I was going to a very important technical conference that afternoon: Stitches West!)
  3. Shape, refrigerate: Friday late night
  4. Bake: Saturday afternoon (I left it out of the fridge for maybe 45 minutes before baking it; maybe that's what caused the flying roof?)
Note for next time: I found a review of Josey Baker Bread that said it'd be easier to mix the dough if you mix the water and the pre-ferment first to make a kind of batter. Then add the flour, a little at a time. Makes sense.

Sesame bread and Diet Coke, a still life by Johnny Chow

A couple of miscellaneous notes about the sesame bread:

  • I accidentally removed the pot about 10 minutes early. (You start it out with an overturned pot on top, to keep moisture around the bread during early baking.) This probably had an effect on the texture and crust.
  • The first scoring didn't seem to work, but the second did. Surface tension or just inexperience?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Improving on two breads

This weekend I made two breads that I'd made before, but that needed improvement: Josey Baker's sesame bread, and Hensperger's Bohemian black bread (BBB). Both breads were delicious the first time around, but had... shall we say... appearance issues.

The sesame bread's ugliness was the result of accidentally folding the dough as I plopped it into a preheated Dutch oven. The BBB's ugliness seemed to be the result of the yeast collapsing—the bread probably rose too high, too soon.

I figured the sesame bread's problems (more details here) would be fixed by using the new baking stone I got for the oven. Some additional help would come from my new proofing basket and bread scorer (aka lame, which rhymes with mom).

Want a lame? Let me know! I have lots of them. They're dangerously sharp, so keep them out of the reach of kids and blindly wandering fingers, but they're good for scoring bread and, I hear, for opening packages.

Sure enough, the new equipment made handling the bread dough easier (although I didn't use the lame this time). The bread looked much better.

Sesame bread that does not look like a monster face

I need to make a few improvements to the process of transferring the bread to the oven. First, make sure the lame's at hand when I need it. (You'd think that after buying a 12-pack, I could find one when I needed it.) Second, use a different pot to cover the bread for the first half of baking. I used a Dutch oven that has handles even with the top, but had a near-disaster when I tried to remove the pot. A lighter pot with handles farther from the top would be much easier to manage. Third, just get better at handling the seeded dough, so seeds don't end up everywhere (on the kitchen floor and counter; all over the oven, popping like popcorn...).

But mostly the transfer/baking process worked pretty well. Using baking parchment to transfer the dough was easy and effective. I removed the parchment halfway through, when I removed the Dutch oven covering the bread.

Backing up a bit, the process of fermenting and mixing the dough was a bit different this time—it was faster. I noticed no difference in flavor, but a few white patches were visible inside the bread. That might be because the dough didn't sit as long as last time, or maybe I just undermixed the dough. (The easiest way to mix is squishing it between your fingers, which is fun, so I should just enjoy that.)

Depending on how long you refrigerate the dough after mixing it or shaping it, this bread can take anywhere from 21 hours to a week, start to finish. (Taking more time is supposed to be better, flavor-wise.) The last time I made this bread, it took 4 days; this time it took a day and a half. I made the pre-ferment Thursday morning, mixed the dough that evening, shaped the loaf Friday morning, and baked Friday afternoon. (I'd worked from home, to avoid exposing coworkers to my cold, so I had more flexible time than I usually do on a weekday.) The amount of time I spent actually working on the bread was minimal—most of the time was just waiting for the yeast beasties to do their thing.

Most importantly, the bread tasted great. I brought it to a friend's house Friday night, where it served as a pre-dinner snack as well as dinner accompaniment. Yay, success! I froze the remaining few slices Saturday night, since this bread went stale quickly the last time we made it.

For the second loaf of bread, Bohemian black bread (BBB), I needed to slow down the yeast beasties to avoid the problems I had the first time. Some ways of slowing the yeast involve adjusting the ingredients:
  • Reducing the yeast
  • Increasing the salt
  • Decreasing the food (sugar, whole grain, ...)

Other ways of slowing down yeast involve time and temperature. I didn't want to mess with those because I wanted to keep this as a simple bread machine recipe.

I ended up reducing the yeast and increasing the salt, along with accidentally increasing the food.
  • Yeast: 1 t instead of the 2.5 t the recipe called for (was 2 scant last time)
  • Salt: 3/4 t instead of 1.5 t (was 1/2 t last time)
  • Molasses: 2 T instead of 1.5 T (oops; I was looking at the wrong ingredient list when I measured this)

I cooked it on whole wheat mode, which is probably what I used last time. I then let it rest overnight, since this bread tastes better the second day.

Bohemian black bread

The bread looks fine (albeit slightly lopsided) and tastes great! I think that increase in molasses might be a good thing. I suspected that part of the bread might have a flying roof (a hollow area just beneath the crust), but after eating half the loaf, I still haven't found any big air pockets.

No flying roof here

What's next? A knitting convention! Which is relevant to bread only in that I'm taking off Thursday to go to an afternoon class. Having Thursday morning free means that I might be able to prepare one of Josey Baker's time-consuming recipes for this weekend. Maybe I'll bake one of his sourdoughs, at last.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Last weekend's bread

Last weekend, facing the loss of the Reinhart and Josey Baker books, I reacted in a few ways:
  • Making another recipe from JB (dark mountain rye, definitely not one I'd make again)
  • Ordering the JB book, which is worth the price even if the sesame seed bread recipe is the only great one (although I suspect it has more gems)
  • Converting Andrew's starter from a Reinhart starter into a Josey Baker starter (into two batches of starter, actually—one to be stored at room temperature and one to be refrigerated, to see which I prefer)
I also fed Lee's starter and made a Hensperger recipe to provide bread for the weekend, since the JB bread wouldn't be ready to eat until Monday. (Although the pre-baking time is less than for many of JB's recipes, you're supposed to wait 24 hours before eating the baked bread.)

Feeding Lee's starter turned out to be more of a process than I expected. I started late Friday night by mixing the starter with 1 cup each flour & water. After letting it sit overnight it still didn't seem to be very active, so I added a heaping tablespoon of plain yogurt. It still didn't take off (maybe not enough yogurt?), so I added some sugar. That did the trick. Within an hour the starter was frothy and sour. (During feeding time, I mostly kept the starter on the counter at 65-72 degrees; at other times it was in the oven, sometimes on proof mode.)

On to the JB recipe: dark mountain rye. Saturday I took one teaspoon of Andrew's original starter and made a pre-ferment for the bread. Sunday, I mixed the bread, let it rise twice, and baked it. Monday night I took a bite... and wished I hadn't. Maybe I don't like 100% rye breads or maybe it was the seed mix, but it smelled/tasted a bit like Alpo to me. Eau de canned dog food. Yuck. Composted.

One bite was all it took... to realize I hate this bread

Saturday I also made a loaf of toasted sesame whole wheat bread (Hensperger p. 113) in the bread maker. I made the following adjustments: toasted walnut oil instead of sesame oil; reduced the salt to under 1 t; reduced the yeast to 1-1/2 t. I used the dark, flavorful Norcal honey.

Toasted sesame whole wheat bread

Unfortunately, the bread didn't taste very good by itself, although it did have a nice texture and was fine as a sandwich bread. I suspect walnut oil was a bad choice. I might try it again with another oil, since it would be very handy to have a flavorful bread that can be made on the delay timer. I might also increase the amount of sesame seeds; I couldn't see any inside the loaf.

I see no sesame seeds

Sometime that weekend I also made two batches of JB sourdough starter from Andrew's starter. One batch (started from Andrew's original) is in the fridge, and the other (started from a starter I created from Andrew's original) is in the kitchen. I'm curious as to which one I'll like best, both in terms of taste/behavior and in terms of the work to maintain it. You have to refresh the room-temperature starter every 2 days, while the fridge one will last "a few weeks". JB has you take the fridge starter out "a few days" before using it, so the fridge is most useful if you don't expect to bake sourdough 2/week, or you want to avoid wasting flour.

So far I've been good about refreshing the room-temperature starter every couple of days, but we'll see if that lasts.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Sourdough, Josey Baker, & Peter Reinhart

I've been making lots of different kinds of breads lately, driven by two factors:
  • Borrowed bread books
  • Newly obtained starters (thanks, Lee & Andrew!)
The borrowed bread books are Josey Baker Bread (JBB) and Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads (PRWGB). I've met Baker in person (before I started baking bread) when he was dropping off loaves at my office in San Francisco. He seems the same in real life as he does in the book—super enthusiastic and energetic. Reinhart also has bay area ties, but he doesn't live here any more.

I borrowed JBB first, after I happened to notice it in the Mountain View library's bookmobile. JBB takes the approach of teaching you through a series of recipes. I skipped recipe #1 and made #2, "A two-part mix". It turned out fine, although I don't remember much about it; it's a pretty plain loaf. I made a couple of changes, using graham flour for the pre-ferment (since I was out of regular whole-wheat flour) and halving the salt.

JBB: A two-part mix (recipe #2)

Reading ahead in JBB, I saw that most of the recipes called for sourdough starter. I'd already wanted to make breads from real, time-tested sourdough starters, so I decided to use Facebook and Google+ to ask for starters.

Lee's starter (found via the Facebook post) is a white sourdough starter derived from Goldrush Sourdough Starter, which doesn't have a great reputation. Lee said that the first time he tried a Goldrush starter, it failed completely. The second time, however, it took. He has used this starter for years, even taking it on week-long scout camping trips.

Andrew's starter (found via the Google shuttle) is a whole-wheat "mother starter" from PRWGB. Andrew didn't happen to need PRWGB for the next week, which is how I ended up borrowing it. (Thanks, Andrew!)

There I was, with a bunch of starter and two books I had to return soon. It was time to start baking. However, I didn't have much time, given work and my commute, and most of the recipes in both JBB and PRWGB take multiple days to make. I was able to refresh both starters during the week, but I couldn't make most of the recipes.

So that we'd have bread during the week, I used Lee's starter to make sourdough buckwheat bread from Ruth Hensperger's The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook (TBLBMC). Sourdough buckwheat bread is a really nice loaf of sandwich bread, with flavor from buckwheat, whole wheat, and orange zest. It's not the heart-healthiest recipe (mostly white flour, with an egg and some butter), but I might well make it again.

TBLBMC: Sourdough buckwheat bread

Changes I made to the recipe include halving the salt, halving the yeast, and using buttermilk powder & water instead of buttermilk. I might've also used a little less butter than the recipe called for, thanks to spillage.

Next, I made another relatively quick recipe: JBB's adventure bread, which is made almost entirely of seeds—no gluten, and no flour. It's held together mainly by chia and psyllium. You can see the recipe on David Leibovitz's blog. I wasn't crazy about this bread, and my husband hated it, but it's certainly interesting, and it holds its shape amazingly well. If you try adventure bread, I recommend eating it warm, preferably toasted, so it isn't clammy. I omitted the salt entirely, but it'd probably taste better with salt.

JBB: Adventure bread

Finally the weekend came, and I could prepare two-day recipes from JBB and PRWGB. Saturday I started JBB's sesame bread and PRWGB's whole wheat sandwich bread. The sesame bread isn't a sourdough bread, but I'd been wanting to make it ever since getting the book, and I'd recently found the brown, unhulled sesame seeds it called for. I started a little late in the day (after noon), so I ended up staying up very late, so that after the 12 hour pre-ferment, the mixed sesame bread could rise for 3 hours before I stuck it in the fridge for up to 3 days.

The PRWGB recipe is 100% whole grain. It uses a soaker (salted, soaked whole wheat) along with a bunch of starter. I made the soaker Saturday morning, so that it'd be ready to mix with the starter and bake Sunday. Even though PRWGB featured this recipe in its "Master Formula" section, it was sufficiently complex that I wrote a 9-step timeline of what I needed to do. It felt like Thanksgiving, with less risk of food poisoning.

Timeline for PRWGB's master formula

When I started prepping to make the dough, I remembered a big pastry board I'd given my daughter. It's a beauty, but I don't think we'd used it before.

Pastry board with ingredients ready to mix

I tried using the stand mixer to mix the dough, but it didn't seem to be working, so I ended up mixing by hand. Then I kneaded for what was supposed to be under 5 minutes but went much longer, until the dough got close to passing the windowpane test—stretchy enough that a small amount you pull off can form a translucent "windowpane". Kneading must be a good core workout: the next morning my abs were a little sore!

I'm not experienced at shaping bread, so I'll spare you the pre-baking pictures of shaping the bastard, but here's the final result, which is huge, by the way.

My version of a bâtard (which means bastard in French)

The resulting bread tasted fine, but the crust was disappointingly soft. I suppose I should've expected the soft crust, since it was described as a sandwich bread, but if I'd known I would've just baked it in a pan.

I took my time with the JBB sesame bread, not baking it until Wednesday. I goofed up the flip into the Dutch oven, so it ended up folded in half. The end result looked a little weird, but it was delicious!

Not bad for a loaf that took a header

My husband and I keep eating this bread. It tastes great, it's nicely chewy, it's good in a sandwich or by itself or alongside dinner... This is a seriously yummy bread. Even though only a small percentage of it is whole wheat, I'll make it again. The sesame seeds help make up for the white flour, right?

Great by itself or with dinner

The only change I made was halving the salt. I made the pre-ferment and dough mix Saturday, shaped the dough Monday or Tuesday night, and then baked it Wednesday. (Note: Eat this bread within a day or so. By Friday evening, it tasted stale.)

The ugly side looked like a monster's face. I ate it anyway.

Both JBB and PRWGB feature whole-grain, artisanal breads. JBB is more approachable; it's breezy and doesn't require lots of reading before you get to work. On the other hand, JBB didn't answer all of my practical questions (should I cover my proofing basket? what does "fold in the sides of a circle" mean—how can circles have sides?). PRWGB is more thorough and authoritative, but you have to flip around a lot to get all the information you need.

When I started this post, I thought I'd end up buying one of the Reinhart books but probably not the JBB book. After making the bâtard and the sesame bread, I've swung the other way: the PRWGB bread was a lot of work with a disappointing outcome, and the JBB bread was delicious and easy (though not quick).

I've also discovered that I'm not really into kneading. In the future, I'll probably let the bread machine do the work.

Finally, I'm planning to buy a baking stone and a lame. Maybe a banneton basket, too. No more monster-face breads for me.