Sunday, January 15, 2006

B - as in 'baker' - D

It seems like I've been writing this post for hours. We both woke before 3 AM today for no apparent reason. Shawn was eventually the brave one. She got out of bed and went downstairs, hoping not to disturb me. However, when she left and didn't come back, I woke in earnest and began thinking about several things. One of those things was this post. It was enough to get me out of bed and join Shawn in making a list of plants and seeds we're thinking of ordering for the garden this year. We made it back to bed and got up at a more reasonable hour. After breakfast, a little chatting with my friend Cheryl, and the newspaper, I'm finally getting to this post.

In one sense, this post has really been in the making since a couple of days before Xmas. Shawn had said that she wanted to make a loaf of Stollen for Xmas. So, while I was out shopping, I picked up some marzipan for the bread. I also grabbed some candied citron and candied cherries. That evening Shawn told me that she wouldn't need the candied fruit as she was using some of our dried fruit, so "you better come up with some ideas for that stuff soon". Oy. As you read below please keep in mind that I still haven't seen the Stollen and the marzipan sits in my refrigerator untouched.

A day or so past Xmas I began thinking about the candied fruit. While thumbing through Peter Reinhart's excellent book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice, I came across a recipe for Panatone. Panetone's origins are in doubt, but basically it's a rustic Italian loaf made with candied fruit (or dried fruits) soaked in liquor. It's a white bread made with a sourdough starter. Now, there were 2 obstacles to me making the bread. One was the ingredients. I usually do not have candied fruit on hand, but this was no longer a problem. Second issue was a sourdough starter. I've never made one before. Reading Reinhart's instructions, it was easy to do, but it would be days to do it. Luckily, I was of work between Xmas and New Year's so I had the time to tackle the recipe.

Over a period of 4 days, you mix flour and water together to start the seed. Basically, you are capturing the natural wild yeast and bacteria in your air and growing it in fermenting dough on your counter. After the seed is made you then make the barm, which is, in essence, your sourdough starter. Once made, the barm can be kept going indefinitely by feeding it every three days (pouring some out and doubling the remaining with fresh water and flour) and storing it in your refrigerator (or, alternatively, storing it in your freezer and thawing it in the refrigerator a day before you need to use it).

I made the barm and used that as the base for making the Panatone. Even with the barm, you need to ferment the dough for the Panatone, so it takes 2 days to make. On day one, you make a basic starter and let it ferment at room temperature for several hours before retarding it in you refrigerator. On day two, you mix in the remaining flour, salt, rum soaked candied fruit, and I used a little Grand Marnier for extra flavoring. After some more fermenting, kneading, etc. you eventually divide the loaves and place them in 2 cake pans lined with parchment paper. I baked these last Sunday, but unfortunately, I had to run to work before I could taste them. We tried it Monday morning for breakfast. I sent in a loaf with Shawn for her coworkers. One remarked that I could make bread for them anytime while another complained that I was ruining her diet. The entire loaf disappeared by noon. Success! The comments made me very happy. It's always nice to know that something I prepared brought delight to someone else.

I fed the barm and kept it in the refrigerator. Shawn was very patient with me as it took up quite a bit of room. On Thursday I fed it again with my eye on baking on Friday. By the time Friday morning came around, I had a list of things I wanted to make and my list changed and grew longer throughout the day. Truth is that I was having so much fun in the kitchen that I just evolving the recipes and wanted to do more.

I began the day by making pizza dough. Typically, I make enough dough for 2 pizzas or 4 calzones. It's a simple recipe using all purpose flour, water, olive oil, salt, yeast, and herbs (oregano, in this case). After the dough has been kneaded and rested, I divide it up into 2 pieces. One piece gets wrapped up and put into the freezer for use later (pull it out and put it into the refrigerator in the morning and it's ready to go by evening). The other gets wrapped and put into the refrigerator for use that night.

Next on my list was to make sandwich bread. I use a recipe that I got from the Tassajara Bread Book. It's a good basic bread recipe using a mix of whole wheat and all purpose flour, salt, water, dry milk powder, yeast, and molasses. I like to top the loaves with sesame and poppy seeds. The bread comes out dark brown and slightly sweet. The book is a favorite of mine since using it to learn baking bread. It's pretty casual in it's approach (even if it takes over 4 hours to make 2 loaves), with lots of good information on both the basics of making bread as well as substitutes for ingredients and variations on a basic theme. It's a terrific source for the beginner baker.

After getting the sandwich loaves into the oven, I got the starter ready for my sourdough loaves which I was planning on baking on Saturday. I removed the barm from the refrigerator an hour earlier to bring it to room temperature. Then I mixed 2/3 cup of barm with more flour and water. I let this sit on the counter for 4 hours before returning it to the refrigerator overnight.

The sandwich loaves were still baking (they take an hour), so I decided to make an apple crisp. We had some Granny Smith apples on the counter. I sliced them up and mixed them with a little lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, cinnamon, and Amaretto. For the topping, I mixed brown sugar, oats, pecans, flour, and butter. When the sandwich loaves came out of the oven, I turned it up and put the apple crisp in to bake for an hour. When done, the crisp has a crunchy topping while the apples below are juicy and sweet.

By the time the crisp was done, I had rolled out the pizza dough and placed it on the baking stone. The oven needed to be turned up again. I pre-bake the dough for about 5 to 10 minutes. This makes it less likely to soak up the sauce from the pizza and become a chewy mess. I like a crispy pizza crust. I had good timing that night. Shawn came home as I was taking the pizza dough out of the oven. She had enough time to get changes, clean up, and grab a drink. I put toppings on the pizza and baked it by the time she was ready for dinner.

On Saturday, I got the sourdough starter out of the refrigerator an hour before I was ready to use it. Mixing the starter with flour, water, and salt, I began the dough. I divided it into 2 portions and kneaded it separately. Towards the end of kneading each loaf I added ingredients for flavored breads. To the first loaf I added 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh rosemary. I've always liked a local bakery's rosemary sourdough bread and wanted to try to make one at home. The rosemary came from my front yard. It was coarsely chopped and added to the dough.

For the second loaf I decided to try a recommendation from Reinhart: nuts and Bleu cheese. He recommended walnuts, but I had some fresh (as in new crop in November) pecans that my parents had given us. I slightly toasted the pecans in the oven. The Bleu cheese I used was bought at a local grocery. It certainly wasn't a fancy variety. It was the type that crumbles. Not too salty and with a good bite. I kneaded both ingredients into the dough towards the end of the kneading process.

Both loaves rested on the counter for 4 hours to ferment. Then I proofed both loaves for 2 hours in the oven at 100 degrees. Finally, I formed the breads into rounds and baked them in the oven for 30 minutes. I followed Reinhart's method of putting a cast iron skillet in the top of the oven and pouring water into it when beginning the baking, then misting the oven twice more. This creates moisture in the oven and helps to give the bread a crisp crust.

We eventually tasted each loaf. Shawn plans on taking some into work for her colleagues. The rosemary loaf was tasted with a little olive oil for dipping and a small glass of white wine. Shawn discussed using it for sandwiches. We both loved the pecan-Bleu cheese loaf. It's a darker bread, thanks to the oils in the nuts. You cannot see the Bleu cheese in it, but you can certainly taste the subtle flavor it adds to the loaf.

So, two success stories on the bread baking front this weekend! We've also been enjoying a dried fruit compote I made for breakfast yesterday using a little water, sugar, and a split vanilla bean. Shawn made a delish broccoli salad last night to go with a homemade creamy macaroni and cheese recipe I threw together. Tonight we're having a tortilla casserole using veggies and tofu in the ingredients. These are good cooking days. I'll probably make more sourdough next weekend. In the meantime, I've put the starter in the freezer. I ran out of flour yesterday and this is an easy way to reclaim refrigerator space. Besides, Shawn's happy to get back one of her mixing bowls. :-)

Now, if I can only get Shawn to use that bowl for making Stollen...

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