Friday, February 29, 2008

The Daring Bakers: Julia Child's French Bread

The bread was darker than it appears in the photo
Photo above is the "glamour shot": the culinary equivalent of having a photographer shooting you from the neck up, after a makeup artist has made you look your best. Below, a photo of the whole enchilada:

Short and squat. Note the odd bulges - the dough kind of "exploded" out the sides! From some reading that I've done, this could be the result of the dough sticking to something during proofing (my batard did), not letting the loaves rest long enough after final shaping, or not slashing the them deeply enough.

First, let me thank Breadchick Mary (The Sour Dough) and Sara (I Like to Cook) for selecting this wonderful classic recipe from Mastering The Art of French Cooking,and for typing out sixteen pages of instructions! You can find the original recipe here, and I encourage you to check out the Daring Bakers blogroll to see how everyone else did.

I loved this challenge because it really pushed me outside my comfort zone. In other words, it truly was a challenge! I had never made French bread before (I think my mom and I may have made it once when I was very young), and I learned so much from the problems that I encountered and the techniques that I learned with this bread, that I was able to tackle the Bread Baking Babe's Royal Crown's Tortano.

My house is pretty cold - we keep it at 59 degrees F. If I close the doors of my kitchen, I can get it up to the low 70s in there. This is supposed to be a great environment for bread baking. In retrospect, however, I may have made the kitchen warmer than I thought, leading to me over-proofing the dough.

I weighed my ingredients (using King Arthur Unbleached AP flour), mixed them together, then decided to knead by hand (e-GADS). That last step took about 20 minutes. If you ever want to get into bodybuilding, exercise your upper body by hand kneading dough. I wasn't sure when to stop, and may have overdone it, so I have a question for you more experienced bread bakers: can you overknead dough?

The first rise took three hours, but the "dome" looked a little flat. At the time, I almost let the dough proof longer because I thought it had not yet formed that puffy dome. Now, I think it may have formed the dome, and was starting to flatten out.

The second rise took only one hour. After I shaped the loaves, they barely rose at all; a couple of Daring Bakers noted that may be a sign that the yeast has run out of food. The loaves had also developed a strong yeasty smell, and I had only enough dough for two loaves!

I baked them on a baking stone, sprayed them with water, and had a pan of steaming water on the floor of the oven.

Though oddly shaped (the round bread reminded me of the movie "Alien," for some reason). The crust was crisp, and the bread actually had body, unlike a lot of supermarket French breads that are very fluffy inside. And the flavor was very nice; the loaves actually tasted like a mild sourdough.

I learned so much from this Challenge, that I'm already applying it to other breads. I plan to tackle this recipe again in the future, but this time I will knead by machine, get an idea of what the dough should feel like, and watch the proofing. Many thanks to Mary and Sara.

Some additional info: (1) For those of you who may be interested in a fancier steam contraption for your oven, see this post by Rosy Levy Beranbaum. (2) In his book, Local Breads: Sourdough and Whole-Grain Recipes from Europe's Best Artisan Bakers, Daniel Leader recommends King Arthur Organic AP flour as the one that most closely emulates French 55-type flour (I didn't use this, I used AP flour per the recipe, so I can't vouch for it). But while perusing the website, I discovered that King Arthur now carries a French-style flour. Woo-hoo!

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Monday, January 28, 2008

The Daring Bakers Strike Again! This Time - Lemon Meringue Pie

Jen, of the Canadian Baker, masterminded this month's challenge - Lemon Meringue Pie! As I've noted before, I am a sucker for citrus, and I was thrilled by this months challenge because it gave me an opportunity to use the Meyer lemons from my little Meyer lemon tree:
The very first pie I ever made was a lemon meringue pie: I was twelve years old, and my mom let me plan and make a meal for the family, all by myself. I made a roast chicken, twice-baked potatoes, and a lemon meringue pie. I have to tell you, much to everyone's surprise, that pie was perfect. And it tasted good, too.Other than the curd, I think my favorite part of the recipe was the all butter crust - it was easy to work with, very crispy, and was still crisp the next morning. I know, because I had a piece of pie for breakfast. But I wouldn't use this crust on a lemon meringue pie again - I think it would be better in a really sweet pecan pie, or maybe even a pot pie of some sort.

Lemon Meringue Pie can be quite challenging for those who have not baked much: you have to work with a pastry crust, make a meringue, and temper eggs for the filling. While the recipe called for putting the cooled filling in a cool crust, and then instructed us to top the cooled curd with meringue, I've learned from sad prior experience to put the meringue on a HOT filling. This helps cook the bottom of the egg whites, and reduces the amount of clear fluid that builds up between the curd and the meringue (known as "weeping".)

I don't know that I would put this particular recipe on the repeat list, but I'm so glad that Jen picked this for January's Challenge. If you want to see and learn more, go over to the Daring Baker's Blogroll. And for the recipe, be sure to check Jen's site. I can hardly wait for the next challenge!


Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Daring Bakers: Yule Log

I was not able to participate in this month's challenge, but be sure to check out the Daring Baker's blogroll to view the beautiful Yule Logs!

And a very Happy New Year to everyone!


Monday, November 26, 2007

The Daring Bakers: Tender Potato Bread

For my second Daring Baker's challenge (and number 13 in the series), Tanna, of My Kitchen in Half Cups, presented us with something savory (for which I thank her from the bottom of my heart): Tender Potato Bread, from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Traditions from Around the World, by Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford.

I grew up baking bread with my mom, but life, school, and career took precedence over bread baking for many, many years. Lately, I have felt a real yearning to start working with dough again, and have been filling up my freezer with all sorts of interesting flours that I've been hoping to experiment with. Someday.

Well, Tanna's challenge gave me the opportunity to take the leap. And the wonderful thing is, many things went wrong, but I was having so much fun creating this marvel that I didn't care! And the bread still turned out great!

Exhausted from Thanksgiving baking (more on that in a future post), not to mention desserts, I opted to bake two simple loaves, one a 9 x 5 inch and the other an 8 x 4 inch. I added about a cup more of flour than the directions called for, but still had a huge gooey mess on my hands that was absolutely impossible to shape. It was like a big pile of goo. I finally resorted to my KitchenAid with its dough hook (allowed for medical reasons).

Now, I'm sure you're wondering what medical reasons I could be talking about. Well, at Thanksgiving dinner, while removing a pecan pie from a tart pan, I cut the forefinger of my right hand so deeply with the edge of the pan that my finger continued to bleed for over two hours. I noticed something was amiss when I saw the blood running down the knife I was using to cut pie slices.

As if that were not enough, on Saturday I slammed the sliding glass door on the other forefinger, and opened up a nice little cut there, too. When I lost my band aids in my gooey potato bread dough and had to fish them out, I decided to pull out the KitchenAid.

At any rate, I can see from other Daring Bakers' pictures that I could have added even more flour. I literally had to pour the dough into the baking pans. No shaping of the loaves, let alone rolls, was possible. So I poured and hoped for the best.

There are a couple band aids in here. Luckily, I found them!
I was not disappointed. This bread is delicious - moist, with a lovely crumb that takes well to liberal buttering. The crust is chewy and crispy. The whole wheat flour and potato give the bread a depth of flavor usually lacking in white loaves. In fact, I'm thinking of having another piece as I write this, but have decided to wait and try a soy bacon - lettuce -and tomato sandwich for lunch. I can just imagine the mayonnaise sinking into the nooks and crannies of this tasty loaf!
Some notes: I used russet potatoes, and King Arthur brand unbleached all purpose, and whole wheat flours.

Happy Baking! And check out the wonderful creations of the other Daring Bakers!


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Daring Bakers: Bostini Cream Pie

My freshman effort for The Daring Bakers a came in the midst of one of the most hectic time periods in recent memory for me. In the past six weeks, both computers blew up, the printer won't work, our furnace wouldn't turn on because the thermostat failed, our water heater wouldn't heat water, we are having electrical problems, and a faucet less than a year old had to be replaced. And these are just some of the things that have gone wrong. My computer still won't read some CDs, or download software properly. I apologize for the poor photography; never great to begin with, I don't have the use of software to clean it up a bit.
In the midst of this insanity, I dove into my first effort for the Daring Bakers: Bostini Cream Pie (not a typo). Mary, from Alpineberry chose this dessert for the month of October (follow the link to her site for the original recipe). One of the neat things about the Daring Bakers is that people pick things that I might never try on my own, and this recipe is an example. An incredibly rich pastry cream or custard, topped with a light and airy orange-scented chiffon cake, drizzled with semisweet chocolate at the end. I would describe this dessert as a symphony: each element, while tasty by itself, is elevated to new heights in combination with other parts of the dessert. Actually, pastry cream doesn't need any help. Ever. I had to stop myself from eating it by the spoonful!
I tweaked the recipe a bit by halving it, more or less, and it turned out just fine. There's just so much cream custard and chocolate that I consider safe to have around the house. I also baked the cake in a jellyroll pan, and used a biscuit cutter to cut out rounds for the dessert.
Check out the Daring Bakers' Blogroll for all the masterpieces!
Bostini Cream Pies
(from Donna Scala & Kurtis Baguley of Bistro Don Giovanni and Scala’s Bistro)
To prepare the custard
1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature
1-1/2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 large egg, lightly beaten
4 egg yolks
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 of a vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
5 oz. sugar

Mix together the milk and cornstarch in a bowl until smooth, then add to the eggs and mix well.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the cream, vanilla bean, vanilla seeds, and sugar on medium heat. As soon as it comes to the boil, remove from the heat.
Temper the eggs by adding the hot cream mixture gradually, a little at a time, to the egg mixture while whisking all the time. When the egg mixture is warm, add it to the cream in the saucepan and return the pot to a medium heat. Cook until the mixture thickens so that it coats the back of a spoon. For me, this happened within seconds, so watch it like a hawk.
Remove the custard from the heat and pour through a sieve and into a bowl. Place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on top of the custard to prevent the formation of a "skin," and refrigerate for several hours.
To prepare the chiffon cake
3/4 cup cake flour
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 cup canola oil
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1 Tbsp. grated orange zest
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
5 egg whites
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and line a half sheet (jellyroll) pan with parchment, and then grease the parchment. Don't skip the greasing of the parchment - you want to be able to actually remove the parchment from your cake!

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the oil, egg yolks, orange juice, orange zest, and vanilla. Stir until smooth, but do not over mix.

Beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter. I recommend taking a third of the egg whites and mixing them rather vigorously into the batter, then gently folding in the remaining whites.

Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Bake for 18-20 minutes. The cake is done when it springs back lightly after being pressed with your finger. It will be a soft golden color.

Let cool on a wire rack before unmolding. Gently turn the cake over onto a cutting board or another piece of parchment or wax paper, and carefully peel off the parchment. Cut the cake as desired (I used round biscuit cutters).

To prepare the chocolate glaze
You can make as much or as little of this as you like, as there are only two ingredients and they are in a one-to-one ratio. While you can prepare the other parts of the cake, prepare the glaze right before serving.
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsalted butter

In a small pan or the microwave (if you use the latter, err on the side of caution and don't burn your chocolate!), melt the butter and chocolate. Strain through a sieve if needed (I didn't need to).
To plate
Place the custard on the bottom, top with the sponge cake, and drizzle or drown the cake with the chocolate glaze. Enjoy!