Bread

The Kids Are Baking

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For whatever reason, the kids came home today and decided they were going to make bread. Not my bread, mind you. Their own bread. They were just going to use the same ingredients I use: water, flour, yeast, salt, butter.

For the next 45 minutes or so, they kept walking over to me with bowls full of dough asking my if they were done yet. The first couple of times, the “dough” was more like flour soup. They started adding flour to it and eventually got the proportion of flour to water into a workable area.

Then they wanted to know if they were done mixing it. Their arms were hurting from all the mixing. They kept bringing me lumpy looking bowls full of proto-dough that weren’t anywhere near ready. They started getting mad at me because I kept sending them back for more work.

Finally, I told them that it was good enough. The lass added some kind of chip to hers, possibly a butterscotch chip, possibly a peanut butter chip. I’m still not sure what. The boy wanted to add chocolate chips. I didn’t want to deal with chocolate chip bread, so I told him that probably wasn’t a good idea. Thankfully, he let it go.

They were both pleased as punch when I told them they could let their dough rise. They were both concerned it “wouldn’t work.” But I assured them if they used the yeast and didn’t use too much, it would turn out OK. By the time their would be ready to shape and cook, they’d be in bed so I promised them I’d take care of that part. They both wanted me to shape it into a ball, but the dough was mush to loose to hold that kind of shape. Instead, they got the disc shaped loaves you see above.

No idea how it tastes at this point. That will be for them to find out.

A New Start

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I’ve been utterly and totally incapable of getting a usable white-flour sourdough starter going for almost 2 years now. I’ve tried so many different permutations (including this guys’s instructions) and methods that I’d finally come to the conclusion that it was a problem with the flour. Somewhat dubious, since apparently my Mother has had no problems getting starters going with KA flour at her home. I’ve tried bottled water, converting rye starters to white starters, different methods, all to no avail.

Finally, the Wife purchased a bit of an established starter [from King Arthur][2]. What arrives looks a bit like thermal paste, and is miniscule in amount. The instructions shipped with are pretty simple, starting with adding 1 cup of water and 2 cups of flour to the bit of starter I received. After 12 hours, discard half and then add 1/2 cup of water and 1 cup of flour. Repeating this process after 2 to 4 hours, more or less the time it takes for the flour to double in volume.

[2: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/items/classic-fresh-sourdough-starter-1-oz

The product was as good as it’s word. The starter was quite active, doubling easily within about 3 hours. I used it to make a sourdough loaf a couple days ago and it had the familiar tangy flavor to the bread. The bread is aging well also- staying most and chewy while the flavor actually seems to be improving a bit.

I still don’t understand why I haven’t been able to get one going on my own. But at least I have something to work with now.

Poor Man’s Sourdough Starter

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Actually, that’s an inaccurate description. All you need for real sourdough starter is flour water and time. What I’m about to describe is a simple way to extend the supply of instant yeast a bit and also give a bit of extra flavor to your bread.

It’s really simple. Add a quarter teaspoon of yeast to a cup of flour and a cup or water. Mix it together and allow it to rise. If it doubles in an hour, then you’re good to go and use it. Alternatively, stir it up and allow it to develop a bit longer. If it doesn’t double in an hour, stir it up and wait again.

Once it’s usable, simply proceed with the normal recipe, taking care to account for the cup of flour and water you’ve already mixed up. So if the recipe calls for 2 cups of water, just add one more. Same for the flour.

Depending on how active the yeast is and how long it’s allowed to develop, the resulting bread will more closely resemble a sourdough bread than not. I used this trick the other day and the results were delicious.

And now they’re gone.

Kitchen Equipment Falling Apart

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First, we’ve had a Keurig coffee maker for a couple of years now. It died this past week. We didn’t do a rendition of Taps for it, but we certainly missed it. We tried to fall back to our previous coffee maker and had a bit of a time figuring out the right ratios of grinds-to-water. I’m pretty sure I’ve got extra hair in places I didn’t before. But more importantly, we realized a not-so obvious other benefit to the Keurig- we used less coffee grounds to make an acceptable cup of coffee. The Wife and I both noticed it this past week- when I mentioned it this morning the Wife concurred, replying “I thought I noticed the same thing, but thought it might just be me.” She went out an purchased a new Keurig today to replace it. They’ve made some changes, like getting rid of the charcoal filter in the water tank. Also, it appears our old Keurig had been dying a slow death because our first cups with the new one were noticeably hotter than what we’d been accustomed to. Definitely for the better.

I also wanted to pass along that I had to replace our Kitchenaid 7 Qt- yes, the one we’d just purchased in December. That clicking sound I described on numerous occasions only got worse. More recently, it had turned into a horrendous grinding noise when making the dough. It made it through it’s final bit of dough last night, but I couldn’t hold onto it any longer. It was only a matter of time before it gave out entirely. So I called Williams Sonoma and to my pleasant surprise, they said they’d take it back and exchange it for another one. I assume they handle returning the broken one to Kitchenaid. Naturally, mine was the first they’d had returned. Here’s hoping I don’t have to return this one.

Speaking of the last dough I made, I tried something a little different. Mom had mentioned how she’d seen a loaf of bread made on Food Network where they used ice water and refrigerated the dough. I’ve refrigerated dough, but never used iced water when making the dough. The idea is to extend the time for the yeast to fully develop by retarding its development with the cold, thereby improving the flavor of the bread. I’d never tried it, it sounded interesting so I gave it a shot. I can say that it does make for a nice loaf of dough, but the hard part is allowing enough time for the dough to properly warm up again. In reality, I probably should have given mine a lot longer to do so.

Better Bread Baking

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I made a loaf of my Wonder Bread recipe today, but when it came time to bake it, I tried something different. Rather than bake it on a cookie sheet or in a loaf pan, I baked it on a cast iron griddle that I preheated in the oven. In essence, I was trying to simulate wood-fired stone oven baking.

With much of my reading about bread baking, one common theme I’ve come across from professional bakers is that their ovens are HOT. Real hot. Not only that, but the bread isn’t baked on pans, it’s baked right on the floor of the oven. As near as I can glean, this accomplishes a number of things necessary for good bread. For one, it caramelizes the bread- which is a fancy way of saying it gives the bread a nice crust. For two, placing the bread on the oven surface (which is HOT) causes steam to form in the oven. The steam humidifies the oven a bit allows for oven spring to occur in the bread.

So how did it work? Well, there are some glitches to work out. For one, I cooked at 450 (I typically cook this recipe at 400), which probably isn’t hot enough since I didn’t get a lot of steam formation when the dough hit the cast iron griddle. For another, I didn’t have corn meal to use on the peel. This was almost a deal breaker, because by the time the bread finished proofing on the peel, it was stuck. I had to use a spatula to loosen it up, which caused it to start deflating.

However, I did get some nice oven spring. In fact, it was more than enough to counteract the rough treatment the dough got while I was putting it in the oven. Also, the crust turned out real nice. One thing I did to simulate the wood-fired oven thing was to turn the heat down to 350 after about 10 minutes of baking. Basically, I was mimicking the cool down of a wood-fired oven. This was to prevent the crust from burning while the interior of the bread finished cooking.

So while it was hardly a glitch free attempt, the results were promising enough that I’ll likely continue to work with it. Oh, the rest of the family liked the result as well. Always an important threshold to achieve.

Mixer Update

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So I’ve made bagels as well as white bread and I’m primed to make some sourdough recipes as well now. I think there’s reason to be hopeful here.

The bagel recipe was a 9-cup recipe and I had the mixer work the dough for the better part of 15 minutes. It was a stiff dough as well, so it was a decent test. Heating up in the motor area wasn’t alarming, i.e. the unit wasn’t hot to the touch. I’m pretty sure the previous mixer would’ve shut down under those circumstances. I was never comfortable using it with more than 7 cups of flour, to be honest, even though it claimed it could handle 14 cups.

I’ve also made a couple more loaves of white bread with very good results. I typically knead my dough at speed 4 and the KA-7 handles the job with aplomb. The motor had no hesitation during start-up, even once the dough is pretty well developed. Also, there’s little evidence of strain as the dough hook moves through the dough, even when it wads up on the hook. Again, the Pro6 would exhibit obvious strain during at that point.

My only cause for concern is a “ticking” noise coming from the planetary once the dough starts coming together in the bowl. Interestingly, if I stop the machine and the restart it, the ticking goes away and does not return. I’ve got no idea what might be the cause of the sound, but it’s certainly not endemic to the unit.

All in all, I’m beginning to think the big test of the unit will be longevity, and only usage and time will tell that tale.

We should be good for some sourdough a little later this week. More then.

A Mixer Experiment

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So, this past Monday I went to take a look at the relatively new KitchenAid 7 Qt Mixer. They’re only available at Williams Sonoma stores for the time being and we have one not too far away. The folks at the store were kind enough to pull out a unit they use for demonstration purposes and allowed me to play with it a bit. Unfortunately, it’s too new to know much about it and I couldn’t mix anything up with it. So seeing it in person is of little utility to rendering a judgement on it. Somewhat ironically, the salesperson helping me revealed she owns a Bosch Universal for her bread baking “kneads”- according to her the unit can handle 5 lbs of flour with ease.

That was the comment that kind of cemented in my mind I’d have to take a chance with the KitchenAid. The Bosch is designed for larger batches of dough, and I typically don’t make such large batches. Most of my recipes are in the 3 to 4 cups of flour range. I do have a white bread recipe that uses 6 cups at a time and a bagel dough that’s similar, but that’s it. (My disappointment in the Pro600 series becomes more evident.) Thus, a mixer after the KitchenAid style is really what was appropriate. Throw in the cookies and baking that the Wife would use it for and that makes even more of a case for sticking with it.

So I walked out of the store with the 7Qt KA. It has a 90-day “no questions asked” return policy. Thus, I figure I’ll put the sucker through it’s paces ove the course of 90 days. What’s more, having un-boxed it, it has a 2-year factory warranty. A sign of confidence in the product I’d say. Either that or they’ve really dialed in the MTBF.

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The Great Kitchen Mixer Search

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Reading through reviews of the Cuisinart 7-qt mixer, I stumbled upon a reference to the Bosch Universal Plus Mixer. I’ve searched through several review threads and I’m now extremely intrigued by it. I’ve even watched a video of someone making whole wheat bread that had at least 8 cups of wheat flour. Impressive! Even more so, the specs claim it can handle 15 pounds of bread dough. I’d never try that on the KitchenAid. Even when it wasn’t broken, because that would break it.

My only issue is it seems to be an online purchase. I haven’t found a brick and mortar that has it so I can look at it. The main knocks against it are that it’s not a great general purpose tool. I’ve seen comments that it isn’t effective at creaming sugar and so forth because of the bowl/ mixer design. Of course, in my case the thing will be used for bread dough 90% of the time so that might not matter to me.

The search continues.

Bread Dough with a Food Processor

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Since our KitchenAid crapped out and I haven’t been in a huge hurry to replace it with something I’m equally suspicious will give out somewhere down the line, I abused our Cuisinart food processor yesterday to make stromboli dough. While not nearly as convenient as the mixer, it was just as effective at producing an adequately kneaded dough.

I just made it in 3 cup batches, since I didn’t want to beat the motor up too badly. I used a plastic dough blade, put all the dry stuff in, then closed her up and turned it ON, then poured the water in through the shoot. It actually combined the water and flour much quicker than the mixer normally would, with the bonus of not spreading flour all over the kitchen since it’s covered up. Probably took 30 seconds to completely combine the water and flour mixture.

After that, it only took another couple of minutes using the PULSE switch to knead the dough. It wasn’t perfect here, but it was good enough and I was only making stromboli dough so I didn’t “knead” it to be perfect.

Of course, the ultimate proof is in the eating. I made 3 yesterday. Two of which went with the Wife to a knitting party and the last one stayed here for the kids and I to eat for dinner. The Wife’s I filled with a pepper, onion and spinach filling for one and a turkey, mushroom and black olives for the other. The one that remained home I filled with spinach, hamgurg and sausage.

The Wife didn’t bring anything home (who knew knitters were so voracious!). There was only a little bit left of the one the kid’s an I had.

Score one for the Cuisinart.

Brioche

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I’ve never made brioche before. I only ever became aware of it from reading a book by Alton Brown. More recently, I was speaking with a hockey-Mom who bakes her own bread like myself and she spoke very highly of brioche. The Wife was so impressed that she started pushing me to bake a loaf, going so far as to dig up a couple of recipes on the web. I finally relented this passed weekend.

I don’t know if there is a classic brioche recipe out there. But the defining characteristics of a loaf are a dark, dark brown crust that is soft, an even crumb, a little bit of sweetness to the taste and a very soft texture. It’s like eating a pillow- without the feathers … or polyester.

Following is a recipe that I came up with based on the ones the Wife provided.

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Sweet Bread

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Well, in spirit anyway.

This is a modified Portuguese Sweet Bread recipe. Specifically, I’ve attempted to replace the sugar with honey as the sweetener. First the recipe, then the results. If you’re at all interested in trying it, be sure to read the recipe prior to starting.

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Finally- A Usable Sourdough Starter

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I was able to use my rye starter to create a white flour based sourdough starter. It’s still not as potent as the one I had a few years ago and I don’t have the confidence in it to stop feeding it a little rye flour when refreshing it. But I was able to use it yesterday to make a nice loaf of sourdough bread. The result was delicious.

Ultimately, that’s all that counts in a starter.

Sourdough’l Faithful

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I went back to the rye-sourdough stater this week and I’ve got my first loaf proofing right now. Aside from the starter, it’s all white flour so I’ll be curious as to the flavor, texture and taste. I’m thinking it will be another good sandwich bread. Being a rye, it should certainly be on the hearty side.

I’m also trying to “back” into a conventional starter by using the rye starter to er, start the starter. Basically, I took some of the rye starter and I’m starting to feed it some all-purpose white flour. As it progresses, I’ll keep increasing the proportion of white flour, while discarding a portion of the starter. We’ll see if that works.

Sour on Sourdough

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I’ve tried yet again to create a sourdough starter. Yet again, what appeared to be a decent attempt has utterly failed to yield a starter capable of raising bread dough. My unleavened dough, 4 hours in, sits on the counter as a testament to it’s lack of potency.

At this point, I’ve tried using bottled water, organic flower, and bread flour. I’ve tried using rye flour and leaving it out. I’ve tried seeding the starter with instant yeast. I’ve done all of the above in various combinations with nothing to show for it.

I would be less annoyed by all of this if not for the fact that a couple of years ago I was able to create fantastic sourdough starters that yielded great loaves of bread. Now, it appears that the only starter I can get to successfully work is a rye sourdough.

I’m of the opinion that the flour is to blame. Since sourdough starters essentially activate dormant yeast in flour, my thinking is the flour I’ve been using must not have yeast suitable for creating sourdough. It’s not a particularly satisfying conclusion. For one, King Arthur is the brand that yielded those great starters a couple years ago. For another, it implies that there is nothing to be done to fix the problem, save switching brands for the purpose of creating a starter.

If I’m able to get something useful out of it, I wonder if switching back to KA flour would cause it to go bad? I’d hope not. Of course, first I’ve got to create something worth using.

‘Starter’ Wars

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I’ve just canned another attempt at a decent sourdough starter. It has the same problem I’ve been having since my first couple of wild starters from a couple years ago- no leavening. The starter is very liquid, lots of hooch, lots of sour taste. But it can’t leaven anything, making it functionally useless.

At this point, I’m thinking that KA switched their wheat suppliers or something, so I’m now trying to create it using their organic bread flour. It’s just started today, meaning it won’t be ready until Monday at the earliest. But I’ll probably know before by Sunday morning if it will be viable.

If this fails, I’ll probably try a more traditional started approach using yeast.

Sourdough Bread

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I finally managed to develop a non-rye starter. I didn’t put any rye flour in it. The only thing I can figure is that current house conditions disproportionally favored the rye yeast. With my starter in hand, I was finally able to make my favorite sourdough recipe.

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Sweet Bread

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Portugese sweet bread is one of my favorite breads. It has a signature combination of flavor, crust and texture that all work just right together. I’ve made it a number of times so I know the basics. Normally, the key ingredients are 1 cup of sugar, 5 (or so) eggs, and scalded milk. I wanted to try and create my own version of sweet bread using honey. What follows is my first attempt and a critique of the results.

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Pizza Dough II

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This pizza dough recipe is my favorite for a couple of reasons. I’m always amazed that the dough comes together. There is so much water compared to the flour that when the mixing begins, the whole thing is a soupy mess. But it works every time.

Oh, it tastes really good too. This particular dough is excellent for “white pizza”- the kind without any sauce.

The ingredients:

  • 3 1/4 cups of white flour- The flour has to be a high-gluten variety. A
    organic brand will do. Otherwise, add some vital-wheat gluten to the recipe.
    It won’t work otherwise.
  • 1 3/4 cups of water(tepid to warm)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt (this can be reduced to 1 1/2 if you prefer)
  • 1 teaspoon yeast- If using a very active brand like SAF then reduce to 1/2
    teaspoon.

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Pizza Dough

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Actually, this particular recipe is good not only as pizza dough, but it also works well as dough for stromboli or calzone. In fact I used it for calzone the other night for the Wife and her knitting friends. She went there with 2 VERY large calzones. She came home with 1 piece.

The ingredients:

  • 3 cups white flour
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter(chilled)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoons yeast

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Chleba

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I finally got around to using that rye starter. Actually, I’ve used it 4 times so far. The first time, I used it on a recipe from a favorite book of mine. The results were a little disappointing. So I tried again. Having gotten a feel for the recipe, I made some minor alterations. The results were much better. I then made the recipe 2 more times to make sure the results would be consistent. As a result, I enjoyed 3 nice loaves of rye.

Chleba is a simple Czech rye bread. It’s been good eating with stew, or as a sandwich bread, or in the morning with cream cheese. My recipe for it after the link.
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