Why I like Mario Batali.

January 24, 2010

I went to the library today hoping to pick up a copy of Advanced Bread and Pastry by Michel Suas so that I could try the 100% whole wheat bread that is being talked about on The Fresh Loaf lately and, after being told by the library that there was no guarantee they could find me a copy, slunk somewhat spritely in defeat to the cookbook section, looking to dull my disappointment somewhat by finding something else to tickle my fancy for a time. I came home with four worthy selections:

Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which needs no introduction.

Whole Grain Breads by Peter Reinhart. I have Bread Baker’s Apprentice and love it for ideas on breads, so I wanted to see what this particular book was like before I place an order on Amazon for it next month. I’m particularly impressed with the epoxy method. It works very well.

Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes by, well, Martha Stewart. I know, I know. I don’t really want to be known as the Iowa version of her, but there’s worse things to be considered. It has nothing to do with the fact that there’s a recipe for a malted milk chocolate cupcake in there. Not at all…

The last, and not least, of the selections I stumbled upon more by chance. I happened to look in the section where they kept all the other Food Network personality cookbooks and thought I struck gold:

The Babbo Cookbook by Mario Batali was there, and I was taking it home.

The biggest reason it appealed to me, at least insofar as I skimmed it while standing there, was the sweet pea flan. Oh. My. God. It looks like heaven in a little green package. And with a carrot vinaigrette and mint garnish? Yes, please.

When I got home I perused a little further in. Asparagus Vinaigrette with black pepper and pecorino? Yes. Basic pasta recipe that’s easy to understand? So there. Duck. Liver. Ravioli.

My mind is racing.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I know that most of these dishes are beyond my grasp simply for reasons of ingredient availability. The asparagus you can find right now is skinny and woody. Pecorino cheese has to be sourced from 40 miles away. And I have no idea where I’d go to find duck liver. My budget constraints are a whole five page story themselves.

However, I don’t really have to.

One thing about this book is that, yes, this is what they make at Babbo, but he also gives some substitutions. He subscribes to a philosophy that I really relate to: find the freshest ingredients you can and make something great out of them. I can look at the recipes in this book and say “as soon as I can find this, I’ll make it this way, but until then, maybe I can substitute that” and it’ll still be okay.

The other good thing, though, is that not all the recipes are that hard to source ingredients for. There may be a few popping up here soon.

Another thing he seems to be on the same wavelength as me about is the fact that the small things matter. As I write this, I have a very large pot full of chicken pieces simmering away on the stove. Tomorrow morning, when I wake up, that humble pot of cast-offs will have been transformed into the most luscious, decadent stock imaginable. It will go into many things that I could’ve used store-bought stock for, and those things will be better because of it. You wouldn’t think that something like homemade stock would make a difference, but it does, both on the wallet and the palate. It is worth the time and the minimal effort that goes into cutting the vegetables, throwing the chicken in on top of them, filling the pot with water, and setting it to simmer.

The same goes for a loaf of bread. Sure, you can take some flour, salt, yeast, and water and create a loaf of bread, but it will have almost no flavor. Take that same flour, salt, yeast, and water and let it slowly ferment over hours and you have something transcendent and amazing.

These simple touches are what make a meal memorable. Your guests don’t have to know that you’ve done it, but when they ask where you bought the incredible sauce or the tasty loaf of bread you can proudly tell them that you made it yourself. They may even ask for the recipes.

Of course, there’s the fact that it feels good to create these things yourself as well. The sense of accomplishment is amazing.

Today: stock. Tomorrow: chicken and dumplings, fresh tomato sauce, fresh pasta for freezing. After that? Who knows. All I know is that as a cook, and as a person, I’m better for doing all of it. I appreciate my food more when I have to work a bit for it. And I’m finding out that there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of work if that work gives me something so far above what I can buy it’s almost spoiling me for store-bought forever.

Imagining how great my risotto with peas and parmigiano will taste is all the incentive I need.

Yet. Another. Rye.

January 17, 2010

I think that this is going to be my year to go all out with the whole grains.

I like white bread. Love it even. however, when I’m looking for toast in the morning, it isn’t white bread I turn to. Multigrain, rye, whole wheat…this is what my nightly dreams are made of. 100% whole grain? Sometimes, but usually even just a hint of whole rye or whole wheat in a bread will give it a good enough flavor to be deserving of a name other than plain.

This is one such bread.

Behold the 10% Rye Sourdough.

This is a simple, extremely basic loaf of bread. Your ingredients are starter, white bread flour, whole rye flour, water, and salt. It stays good for more than a couple days due to both the rye and the sourdough if kept in an airtight container. An extra long fermentation period, but not too long, and the addition of the rye flour give the loaf a pleasant, subtle tang, but nothing a person who doesn’t love sourdough bread would detect.

And the crumb…

Perfect for sandwiches. Not completely uniform, but your mustard isn’t going to slip out of these holes…much.

If you want a slightly higher loaf, add a bit of gluten flour in place of the white flour in the formula. It’s slightly wet at 68%, so it would benefit from stretching and folding after the all-night ferment. If I hadn’t shaped a round loaf (and scored a bit too long) I think I would’ve achieved something that could be a little higher…but this is just fine for my sandwiches.

Basic Sourdough Rye
My own recipe

175g 75% hydration starter
350g bread flour
50g whole rye flour
14g salt
265g water

Dissolve your starter in the water. Mix together the bread flour, rye flour, and salt. Add to the starter/water. Mix until you form a shaggy mass.

If using a stand mixer: I like to give it about 4 minutes, turn off the machine and let the dough rest for 10 or 15 minutes, then 3-4 more minutes to make sure of good gluten development.

If using the stretch/fold method: I don’t think I’ve really explained how this method works on the blog, but it’s explained elsewhere. For those of you who don’t understand the method, this is how it goes.

After the dough has had a 20 or so minute rest, take the edge of the bowl in one hand and use the other hand, with a bowl scraper or not, to gently fold the dough in on itself while turning the bowl. I hold the bowl with my left hand and use my right to fold. I move the bowl in a clockwise motion, slowly, while stretching small amounts of the dough into the middle of the larger mass. I do this as much as the dough can actually stand; you don’t want to see gluten strands breaking. That’s generally 20-25 times. You want a 20 minute rest between each of these little sessions, and I generally do about 3 of them. Then I do a letter fold twice during the fermentation time: take the dough out of the bowl, flatten it a bit on the counter, and fold in thirds like a letter from left to right and from top to bottom. This will give the dough even more strength.

Once your dough has finished the initial first ferment (mine rises about 2x the original size in about 4 hours), punch it down and do one more. If you’ve used the mixer method, I suggest at least one letter fold here to strengthen your dough. Allow to double in size again.

Shape your dough to proof. About 30 minutes before fully proofed, if using a baking stone, or about 15 minutes if not, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. When your oven is ready, slash your loaf as you choose and slide it carefully into the oven, whether on parchment, a cookie sheet, or just using semolina on a peel. Bake until a thermometer registers at least 200 degrees. My one large boule baked for about 35 minutes.

Makes 1 large boule or batard, 2 medium sized boules or batards, and about 3 smallish baguettes.

Today’s first: bagels. Sourdough bagels. With no added yeast. My first try with bagels, I decide to try a formula that I’ve come up with off the top of my head. Yes, I’ve read enough to know the very basics of what makes a good bagel, but, as you can see…

Had I kept them on a parchment sheet, they would’ve been fine…but I didn’t. I wanted to bake them on the stone. Without semolina. Without parchment. Plain bagels.

They stuck.

Four of the six at least look edible, but the other two were beyond help. This was really my second error. My first was letting them come to room temperature.

The one thing I did right, though: the taste is almost spot on. It’s exactly what you want a bagel to be like. While I plan on getting some malt powder to compare, I really don’t know if I’ll use it. The brown sugar seems to do a great job of getting color on them and the little bit in the dough is not really even noticeable, but seems to give the bagels a depth of flavor that a straight flour/yeast/salt/water dough wouldn’t have.

I plan on trying this exact formula again side by side with a less hydrated dough and see what happens. I also plan to boil right out of the fridge.

One other tidbit of information: if you don’t have a stronger mixer such as an Electrolux DLX or commercial-style stand mixer, just knead by hand. I have a KitchenAid Pro and my bowl liked to pop off the tab in back that holds it down on the mixer. I may look for a solution to that problem, but for now I plan on doing bagel doughs by hand. A KitchenAid without the bowl lift is going to be destroyed by this dough.

The formula, in case anyone wants a puffier, breadier bagel:

Sourdough Bagels (Bread-like)
Adapted from various sources

175g 75% hydration starter
375g bread flour
25g gluten flour
20g brown sugar
14g salt
200g water

Mix until you can’t mix anymore and then turn the dough out on a flat surface. Knead in all the flour, and then knead for at least 10-15 minutes. Your dough should feel just the slightest bit tacky, and not sticky at all. It should also be smooth, and all the flour should be incorporated into the dough.

Ferment until about 1.5 times original size. Took about 3 hours for me.

Divide your dough into your desired amount of bagels. I made 6. Shape bagels. I used the poke and stretch method. Put on a baking sheet and refrigerate overnight.

Next morning, remove the bagels from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees and put a large pot of water on to boil. Add 2 tablespoons of brown sugar to the water. Drop bagels in the boiling water in groups of 3 or 4, giving about 30 seconds on each side. Drain well and place on parchment.

Bake on a stone or baking sheet for 20 or so minutes, until the bagels are golden brown and delicious.

Makes 6 good-sized or 12 mini bagels.

More Alexander…

January 14, 2010

Talking to the stuffed animals on the toy bar.

“Okay, mom, I’m done.”

He weighs 15 pounds. He’s 2.5 months old. That’s about double his birth weight. He’s tall *and* round, though, unlike my daughter was. She was just round.

They get so big so fast.

Chocolate is the world’s most indulgent comfort food. After a particularly unforgiving day of child-rearing, dinner disasters, and wide awake 2 month olds, it is the perfect ending. But what do you do if you have no prepared chocolate goodies?

You make some at 10PM.

These cookies came out of my head after seeing the recipe for Chocolate Crinkles on Joy of Baking. With no good chocolate in the house, though, that recipe doesn’t quite work for me. Enter my cheap Hershey’s cocoa powder and some Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Chocolate Chip Crinkles

1 cup (135g) all purpose flour
1/4 cup (20g)cocoa powder
1 teaspoon (5g) baking powder
1/4 (3g) teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons (75g) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup (100g) sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons (30g) milk
1 cup (175g) chocolate chips
1/2 cup powdered sugar, for rolling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Whisk well to combine and to break up any lumps. In another small bowl, stir together the softened butter and sugar until combined. Stir in the egg well, and then stir in the milk. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and stir well. Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop by rounded teaspoon (or small cookie scoop) into the powdered sugar and coat very well. Place on cookie sheet and bake until the cookies just bounce back after you poke them with a finger. 12-15 minutes should do it. Cool for about 5 minutes on the sheet before moving to cooling rack.

Yield: 23-24 delectable, cake-like morsels of powdered-sugared chocolately deliciousness.

No baking today, but…

January 11, 2010

He’s a mover and a shaker, definitely.

I’m counting the days until I can get the Rebel and 50mm lens.

The Non-Sour Sourdough.

January 8, 2010

Since I cannot seem to get a good photo of the loaf, I’ll give you the crumb of this bread. Maybe I can take a better photo tomorrow. But I have to tell you about it.

My plan this week was to make San Joaquin sourdough and the La Brea bakery bagels that were posted on Wild Yeast a while back. Neither of those two things even got to the dough stage, but I had built up starter for both. I wanted to use some of it at least, so I decided to do this bread.

100g of starter went into a dough that came out with a total weight of just over 1680g. The taste of this bread is amazing. It’s complex. I think it’s the best bread I’ve ever baked if you disregard the fact that all the loaves blew out the sides due to underproofing.

But it isn’t sour. Not even remotely.

There are many reasons why this could be. My starter could’ve been a little past its prime as it had been on my fridge, being stirred occasionally, for about 36 hours. It could be that my starter has more yeast than the lactobacterium that make it more sour. It could be the phase of the moon. Whatever, I think someone else needs to use the formula and report back to me what they find.

Non-Sour Sourdough

100g very ripe starter
944g bread flour
633g water
20g salt

Mix all ingredients until a shaggy dough forms. Fold in the bowl 20-25 strokes every thirty minutes for three total folds. Ferment over night until double. French fold twice during second fermentation. Shape into loaves and proof. Bake at 450 for 10 minutes with steam, then at 425 until done.

Here’s a crappy photo of the finished loaf.

If anyone wants to take a stab at this I’d like some other thoughts.

My Daily Bread – Redone.

January 5, 2010

Simple bread can have great flavor if you do it right. This, for me, is right. A long fermentation time, from final mix through final proof, gives the bread flavor. A very small amount of yeast facilitates that fermentation time. A scant one teaspoon of sea salt complements the flavor in the bread. A good bread flour gives the dough the strength it needs to withstand the long fermentation.

You can substitute a little whole wheat or rye flour for part of the bread flour for different flavor.

This bread has a crisp, crackling crust. It sang to me when I pulled it out of the oven. Note that my shaping skills need work. My putting the loaf in the oven a little before it was fully proofed was likely the culprit than shaping, though, this time.

Sent to Susan for Yeastspotting, hopefully one of two this week.

My Daily Bread
Influenced by various sources.

300g bread flour
1/8 teaspoon instant yeast
scant 1 teaspoon salt
205g water

Fully mix bread flour, yeast, and salt. Add water, mixing with a spoon and then your hand until all the flour is moistened. Let stand 10 minutes.

After that 10 minutes, stretch and fold the dough in the bowl for 20-25 strokes, moving the bowl clockwise with your left hand while working the dough with your right (or the reverse if you’re left handed). Do this twice more before covering the dough and setting it in a relatively cold place for the night. Not your fridge, though, unless you want at least 24 hours before the dough is ready for the next step.

12 or so hours later, get the dough out of the bowl, degas, and do a French fold: stretch the dough out and fold it like a letter. I do this twice, once from side to side and then from top to bottom. Put it back in the bowl and ferment again until double. Shape as desired and proof, in a banneton, basket, or on parchment, until about double.

Your oven should be preheating at 425 degrees. If using a stone, preheat the oven for about 1/2 an hour. If not, preheat your oven for normal time. Place the dough on parchment if it isn’t already, slash it as you wish, and spray with water. Place in the oven, spraying both sides, and bake for 20 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave for at least 10 more minutes, or until desired coloring is achieved. Cool before cutting.

Sourdough…or not.

January 5, 2010

Sourdough purists who feel the need to spout off on every person who uses commercial yeast in a few of their doughs are really starting to piss me off.

You know what, it’s perfectly fine to have an opinion. It’s your right to express an opinion. Do you people not get that you don’t have to be a complete dick about it? Do you not realize that every time you spout your mouth off about how ‘this isn’t real sourdough’ and ‘you can’t call it sourdough’ you may be discouraging yet another person from eventually getting to the point of trying a commercial yeast free sourdough bread?

Hear me out a second.

The world of completely commercial-yeast-free sourdough is a little intimidating. Creating your own starter is a mysterious and wonderful thing to most of these newbies. You people, though, can dash their hopes against the wall before they even get started baking. Some of these people haven’t used anything other than a bread machine before and are just getting started into the world of real artisan baking. So what if they, perhaps, use a recipe with a little commercial yeast for their first time? Wow, magic, it works, they’re so excited that they want to try something without.

What those of you with bad attitudes don’t seem to realize is that you’re losing valuable new recruits into the sourdough world by being complete asses about it. I actually agree with you that things that are not risen by natural yeasts alone should not be called sourdough anything, but the difference is that I would take the time to explain my view instead of just relaying how ‘disappointed’ I am that ‘this isn’t real sourdough’. Next you’ll be telling me that my favorite sourdough sandwich bread, which uses all natural culture, isn’t sourdough because it isn’t sour. Oh, wait, is it?

Maybe we need to re-evaluate some of these terms. Or maybe we all just need to lighten up about it. It’s baking, not religion. Leave the zealotry to those people.

Again with the crackers.

Last night was not really too much of a flop. I think I finally got these the way I wanted them. Made the same way as Deb from Smitten Kitchen did except for one thing: I substituted buttermilk for the cream. It gave the crackers a slight tang that they were missing using the cream.

Now if only my butter had been colder. They are a little on the tough side where the others were light and flaky. Still rather tasty, though.

Parmesan Crackers
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Mark Bittman.

1 cup all purpose flour (unbleached is what I always use)
1/2 cup parmesan or other hard cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, cold
1/4-1/3 cup buttermilk
seeds, course salt, etc, for garnish

Cover a half sheet pan with parchment paper.

Wisk together flour, cheese, and salt in a small bowl. Cut in butter (I used a wire potato masher. Again. It seriously works.) Add buttermilk and mix with a fork until dough forms. Form into a ball carefully so as to work the dough as little as possible. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll dough to 1/8 inch and cut with pastry (or pizza) wheel into desired size. Place individually on sheet pan and bake until browned, 10-15 minutes. Cool completely before eating.