Naturally Leavened Panettone

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This is another recipe from this past holiday season and it is worth recording for reference (and I got it posted before the end of January!). It worked very good but I will need to change a few things next time around, so a quick record of it is a good idea. Usually I make a Panettone or Stollen for Christmas but never with a 100% natural leaven. The idea to make a Panettone with natural levain is something that I wanted to do as soon as I saw the loaves made by Roy.

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I used my regular 100% rye starter to make the levain as always using 50-50 mix of white and whole wheat flours. For the recipe, I used Peter Reinhart’s from Artisan Breads Everyday as a reference. Seeing pictures of Roy’s bread I decided on chocolate and cherry as my flavors.

I soaked the cherries in dark rum while I worked on the starter and dough. To make the levain I mixed roughly 40 gr of the rye starter with 170 gr of 50-50 white and whole wheat flours. After about 6 hours it was bubbly and good to go. The dough in Reinhart’s recipe uses commercial yeast in addition to the levain, I opted to stick only with the natural starter and skip the yeast.

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Since the dough is enriched with soft butter and egg yolks it is a good idea to make it in a KitchenAid mixer to get everything well incorporated and the gluten developed. I decided to bake it in one large loaf using a bundt pan that I sprayed with non-stick oil. The dough, like most Panettone is too slack to really shape it so I just transferred it from the bowl of the mixer into the bundt pan and evened it out as much as possible.

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The dough rises slowly for about 12 hours and develops a lot of flavor. After baking and cooling it is ready to slice. The shape, look and texture of the finished loaf are all excellent. Due to the levain and the long fermentation time, the bread had a great robust flavor. This however did not really work as much as I would’ve liked with the tart cherries and dark chocolate chips.  There was almost too much flavor in there and the bread needed more sweetness and mellow flavors. Next time I’ll go with some almonds and some sweeter fruit like currents, apricots, prunes and maybe just a few cherries.

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Greens, Pumpkin and Rice Torta

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If I had to pick all time favorite vegetarian meals they would have to be Mediterranean. They probably focus on lots of greens and wrapped in thin flatbread or dough (proper Falafel is probably on the top of that list). This Italian gem of a recipe from Paula Wolfert is one of those recipes and I’m happy to write about it at this time since it seems very autumnal.

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Ligurian cuisine is famous for the emphasis on herbs and greens. That’s where the beloved basil-pine nut pesto comes from, herb studded olive oil soaked Focaccia and all manner of simple pasta and seafood dishes. So, it is not surprising that Wolfert’s Ligurian recipe relies on large amount of greens sauteed in generous doses of olive oil and filled in a pastry enriched with more olive oil.

I prepared the dough first by mixing flour, water, olive oil and salt. The dough is very nice and pliable. It smells great due to the fruity extra virgin olive oil in it. That gets divided into two equal portions and can sit in the fridge wrapped in plastic for up to a couple days. It could seep some oil in that time but that is ok.

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Spinach and swiss chard made up the greens portion of the filling. The most important step is to make sure these are very very well washed. There is nothing more irksome than grit in an otherwise delightful dish (same goes for removing the poop “vein” from shrimp…I hate it when lazy cooks leave it in and we get nasty grit!) Anyways, back to the filling. I shredded a few handfuls of a small pumpkin using the coarse side of the grater and tossed these in some salt for a bit. The same salting treatment was used for the coarsely chopped greens. The salt draws out some of the water and helps reduce the astringency of the raw greens.

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After rinsing and draining the greens I sauteed them with onions and olive oil until wilted but still retained their firmness. I tossed in the shredded pumpkin and cooked that for a few minutes too. Once the mixture is cooled, I added a bit of short-grain rice that was soaked in water for 30 minutes, Parmesan cheese, fresh mozzarella and a couple of eggs. I rolled the dough into large 14-inch rounds and topped one with the filling before covering it with the second round. I debated building the whole thing on a pizza peel and sliding it on my baking steel directly. I decided against that and went with building and baking the torta on a round metal baking pan. Next time I might give baking it directly on the baking steel a shot and see what happens (hopefully no burnt dough or a huge mess). My favorite way to enjoy this pie is at room temperature, sliced into wedges and eaten by hand. It is delicious, satisfying and keeps well. It makes lovely meals for days if you do not polish it off the first night.

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Bread: 100% Rye Starter, Tartine and No-Knead Brioche

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It’s time for a proper bread baking post. It’s been a long time since I’ve dedicated an entry to bread and the last one was not that informative. It’s truly fascinating as to how much we can do to stretch the capabilities of what flour and water with a bit of bacteria (yeast) can do. The first loaf I ever baked I credit to Jamie Oliver more than 14 years ago. He made it sound like a no-brainer to bake a loaf of bread. Ditto with the first ever naturally leavened loaf (sourdough). I made my starter using his method and have been maintaining it for 12 years or so. Since then I’d like to think I’ve come a long way and the credit for this post really goes to Chad Richardson of Tartine bakery/books, to a blog called Girl Meets Rye and to the couple from Ideas in Food.

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100% Rye Starter on the left and the Levain on the right

Tartine bakery is now a very popular and duly lauded place in San Francisco. I’ve never been there but  have heard about the place and seen the books. I did not think that I needed yet another bread book until I saw Tartine Book No.3: Modern, Ancient, Classic, Whole at Powell’s Book Shop in Portland. It focuses on whole grain baking and highlights ancient grains and flours like Kamut and Einkorn. Chad Robertson’s recipes only use natural leaven and no commercial yeast at all. The book really pushes what you can do with flour and water using long fermentation times, fermented grains, porridges, sprouted grains. There is one master recipe or more like process and almost all formulations in the book follow that process to make mostly round rustic loaves.

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A loaf made with 20% rye flour, whole wheat and white flour

While doing some research about Tartine methods of baking I stumbled on the Girl Meets Rye blog. My key takeaway from that blog is to switch to using a 100% rye starter for my bread – all my naturally leavened bread. So, I took a portion of my old white flour starter and converted it into a rye starter. It’s made a huge difference in the flavor and fermentation activity due to the high levels of enzymes in rye. Another simple trick I learned from Girl Meets Rye is to store my starter in small jar and refresh it in there using 50 gr starter, 50 gr rye flour, 50 gr flour. How do I know easily how much starter is in the jar? Well weigh the empty jar first and record the weight right on it (stupid obvious, but I had not thought of doing that!). My jar weighs 260 gr, so I ensure I have a total weight of 310 gr with the starter and then add the flour and water. She also streamlines the baking process by using parchment paper to move the bread from bowl to pot. A very helpful tip when dealing with a crazy hot cast iron pot.

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I typically refresh the starter about three times before proceeding to the next step per Robertson, making a leaven. The recipes in Tartine No. 3 all use this leaven made from a tablespoon of active starter and equal amounts of flour and water (200 gr each). That makes a lot of leaven and is enough to make more bread than I need. It actually makes more than you need to make any of the recipes in the book (typically each recipe makes 2 loaves). So I usually make half of that for my leaven and it works great.  Robertson uses “High-extraction flour” a lot but this is not something easily found in my local grocery store. This flour is basically similar to white flour but has more of the wheat bran still in it, almost like a halfway flour between whole wheat and white. That explains why Robertson advises homebakers to use a mix of 50-50 of whole and white flour to mimic the high extraction stuff. This has worked perfectly for me using King Arthur All-Purpose and Whole Wheat flours.

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Leaven and the 20% rye bread mix

The fermentation of these loaves is long but pretty simple. The leaven, various flours/seeds/other and water are stirred together in a bowl. Over the next couple of hours the dough is turned and quickly folded every 30 minutes to develop the gluten. The dough then ferments and rises for another couple of hours. The bread can be formed into boules at this point, allowed to rise for two hour and baked. Usually it works much better for my schedule and -more importantly- for superior flavor to form the dough, place it in a cloth lined bowl and let it sit in the fridge overnight (a process called retardation). I bake it straight from the fridge with great results.

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Baking in a dutch oven – a Le Creuset pot in my case- is not new to the Tartine process. I first heard about it and have been using it since Jim Lahey via Mark Bittman re-popularized the No Knead Bread. Here is the streamlined process I follow now:

  1. Put the pot in the oven and heat it up as high as it goes (550 F)
  2. Use a parchment paper covered peel to gently drop the loaf from it’s fermentation bowl onto the parchment and brush off any residual flour on the surface
  3. Remove the hot pot from the oven and uncover it
  4. Lift the loaf with the parchment and gently put it in the -now very hot- pot. slash the loaf or not, depending on nothing but my mood really. Not slashing makes it look craggy and very rustic.
  5. Cover the pot and put it back in the oven for 20 mins
  6. We do not want the bottom of the loaf to burn so after the first 20 minutes I put the pot on a baking sheet and slide it back in the oven. Reduce the temp to 425 F and bake for another 10 mins.
  7. Uncover the pot, put it on another cool baking sheet and put the whole thing on the first sheet (so now the pot sits on two baking sheets) and put it back in the oven. Again the goal is to insulate the bottom of the loaf so that it would not burn.
  8. Bake it for another 18-20 mins until it is deeply dark brown on the outside. Remove it from the pot and let is cool on a rack.
  9. Through out the whole process enjoy the amazing smells that will be coming out of the oven. Really heavenly stuff.

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This is a loaf that has a good percentage of cooked barley mixed in. Rolled in oat flakes while proofing.

All I’ve talked about so far is lean bread with no oil, butter, dairy or eggs. That’s the bread I make on a regular basis and use for everything. I was curious how my rye starter would work with very rich breads. In their book, Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work Aki and Alex have a fantastic no-knead brioche recipe. I love it because it is easy to make, not very fussy and produces superb rich brioche. The recipe like the ones from Tartine relies on long fermentation times and refrigerator rest as well as a boatload of eggs and butter. I followed their recipe as usual but used leaven instead of using any commercial yeast.

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My concern with the brioche is the large amount of fat in the dough would somehow interfere with the natural leaven’s work. I should not have worried. The brioche loaves exceeded my expectations. They rose beautifully and had an spectacular flavor. In addition to the usual sweet buttery taste these guys had a deep nutty taste with a slightly sour background that can only be achieved from natural leavening.

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The brioche is a favorite in our house for French toast topped with maple apples or toasted and topped with jam. It also goes perfectly with savory toppings like a rich chicken liver parfait or a slice of sharp cheddar. This rye starter really is one of the best bread improvements I’ve made since I started baking.

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French Laundry: ‘Coffee and Donuts’

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Yeah, foam is a crazy new fad. Afterall, no chef was making any food with “foam” ten or 50 years ago. Right? Well, no. Wrong. Foam in cooking, baking and beverages is everywhere. Sometimes it is obvious like a nice froth on a cappuccino. Other times, like in this dessert, it’s a bit less recognizable. This dessert (part 2 of my French Laundry meal) is composed of several foams. Five types to be precise. As the name suggest and the picture shows this is a sort of coffee with a nice froth on it served alongside some perfect donuts. This is a classic French Laundry dessert that is much more than it seems.

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The coffee part is actually a coffee semifreddo topped with steamed frothy milk to give it a traditional cappuccino look. Semifreddo literally means semi-frozen or half frozen and it is a very traditional Italian dessert made by mixing three foams. A custard foam made from egg yolks, sugar and flavored with instant espresso powder is mixed with stiff-whipped sweetened cream and a simple meringue (whipped egg whites and sugar). The three are gently folded together and portioned out into small coffee cups and then frozen. The frozen product has a wonderful smooth rich texture similar to frozen mousse. It is allowed to warm up for a few minutes and then it is topped with hot frothy milk. The effect is both lovely to look at and just delicious with the fantastic juxtaposition of hot and cold.

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Bread and cakes are filled with air bubbles. They are also a type of foam that we bake, steam or fry to trap those air bubbles. As the air in those bubbles heats up it expands  producing airy products that are at the same time light and sturdy. These donuts belong to the category of yeast-risen doughs as opposed to cake donuts which are a quick bread leavened chemically with baking soda and baking powder. Chef Keller’s donuts are rich and almost like a brioche dough. they are made with flour, sugar, eggs and butter. After I made the dough I put it in the fridge to allow it to rise slowly and develop flavor. A couple of hours before frying, I rolled the dough and cut it into 2-inch rounds and then used a much smaller round cutter and punched holes in those rounds to get both donuts and donut holes.

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When ready to serve, I fried the donuts and holes. It’s really neat seeing them go in the oil then bob up when they puff with the heat. While they are still hot, I rolled them in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar and plated a donut and a donut hole alongside the “coffee”. The combination, just like the braised pork cheek dish that preceded it, is comforting, familiar and refined. The semifreddo gets soft enough to even dunk the donuts in it. I highly recommend you do that if you decide to try making this. The recipe makes a good bit of donuts and that’s a good thing because one is not enough.

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Bouchon Bakery: Pain de Campagne

pain de campagneIt’s been a couple of years or so since I posted a gratuitous bread post and picture on my little corner of the web. This particular one is just so beautiful that I had to post it up here and use it as a desktop wallpaper as well. This also gives me the opportunity to praise this inspiring and freaking gorgeous book from the Keller/Ruhlman team, Bouchon Bakery. The credit here also goes to the pastry chef and master baker for Bouchon Bakery, Sebastien Rouxel and Matt McDonald respectively. reading through it I literally want to make and consume every cookie, tart, cake, pastry, confection and bread recipe! It’s one of those inspiring books that makes one want to jump in and start baking. That should be no surprise though since the previous installments in this series were all fantastic from the classic The French Laundry Cookbook to the approachable Ad Hoc at Home. I know I will be making puff pastry soon and certainly trying out Bouchon’s croissant recipe to see how it stacks up to my latest favorite.

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This first recipe I tried is this simple Pain de Campagne (country bread). It’s made with levain (liquid sourdough starter), all purpose flour, rye flour and whole wheat flour. Master baker McDonald instructs us to mix in the mixer on low for 20 minutes, longer than I’ve ever mixed a dough I think and then allow for a long 4 hour or so rise with periodic folds of the dough. I deviated from the recipe in the manner of baking though. I baked the loaf, like most loaves I prepare now, in a Le Creuset pot as opposed to on a baking stone. Really, if the loaf fits in my oval pot I bake it in there. It traps the moisture and gives the loaf a brilliant crust that is glossy, crackly and has just the right thickness.

Cassoulet and Green Salad, Country Bread and Red Wine, Walnut Tart – A Dinner from Southwest France

A long titled post suitable to a properly labor-intensive and delicious cold-weather meal. Both the Toulouse-style Cassoulet and the Walnut Tart are based on Paula Wolfert’s recipes in her book “The Cooking of Southwest France“. The bread is the Pain de Campagne (country bread) recipe from Peter Reinhart’s “The Bread baker’s Apprentice“.

Making a proper Cassoulet is a good bit of work and to get the most out of this dish you really should not cut corners. Boiling some beans and adding in a couple of sausages might be good, but is really not the same animal. It’s almost “wrong” to make a Cassoulet that does not take a couple of days worth of work (mostly unattended simmering or resting). It’s part of the enjoyment that goes into it when you crack that crispy breadcrumb crust that you know how much work really went into making this sublime dish.

It helps a lot having a freezer and larder that is fully stocked. I already had home-cured pork belly (pancetta), home-cooked duck confit, good rich stock (venison in this case), trimmed and cleaned pig skins, home-made Toulouse-style sausage and a few pounds of wild boar. This means I could dive right into cooking the Cassoulet and putting these items together without having to worry about making confit or shopping for pig skins and duck fat.

So, what is involved in making a Cassoulet?

– Simmer pork shoulder (I used wild boar), pig skin, along with aromatics and vegetables (leeks, carrots, thyme, bay, a little tomato paste…)  until mostly tender.

– Add in a pound or 2 (Wolfert uses two for a HUGE Cassoulet, I used one to make half a recipe) of soaked white beans and cook until tender.

– Seperate the beans and stock from the meats. Store in the fridge overnight or for a few days.

– Enrich the stock by pureeing some of it with garlic and pork fat. Add that to the beans, rest of the stock and the pork chunks. Simmer for a little bit.

– Remember those Toulouse sausages I mentioned earlier? Cook those separately. I cooked them sous vide till done. Cut them into pieces.

– For the duck confit, just remove the skins, take the meat off the bones and leave it in big chunks.

– “Build” the Cassoulet by first laying the flat pieces of cooked pork skin (the one we simmered with the beans) in the bottom of a large pot. I used one of my Colombian Chamba clay pots.

– Top that with half of the bean mixture, then the duck confit. Top with the remaining bean mixture. Use a perforated spoon here so that you can control how much of the bean stock is needed. I ended up using all of it for the liquid to come up barely to the level of the beans.

– Bake the Cassoulet for an hour or two. A skin will form on the surface. Stir that “skin” into the Cassoulet. Bury the cooked sausage chunks in the beans leaving them slightly exposed. Top with a tablespoon or two of breadcrumbs and a drizzle of duck fat. Bake until crispy, bubbly and delicious.

– Let it rest for 5-10 minutes at least and dig in.

It really sounds like much more work than it is. Most of the cooking can be spread out over a couple of days and you will be rewarded with one of the most delicious of French comfort foods ever. It’s one of those dishes that if done right are satisfying and rich but not cloying. It should not be mushy or fatty. To get that result, one needs to pay attention to the small details.

Detail1: DO NOT let the beans boil like crazy. As soon as the stock comes up to a boil lower the heat to a very gentle simmer. This way you can control the cooking process better and can cook the beans perfectly. Rapid boil will almost insure burst beans. This will make for unpleasantly mushy beans, a thick cloudy stock and will emulsify the fat in it making it more difficult to de-grease.

Detail2: A key reason why a good Cassoulet should be stretched over a couple of days is de-greasing  the stock. Storing the beans in the cooking liquid in the fridge will form a thick layer of fat on the surface from all those meats. It’s easy to remove that before continuing with the cooking and baking.

What to serve it with? Other than red wine? You really don’t need much else, but a piece of good bread and a tart salad are excellent accompaniments. I shaped the bread specifically for the Cassoulet dinner into an epis (wheat tip) so we could just break off pieces instead of slicing…and it looks pretty neat. The salad was a simple mixed baby greens mix with a vinaigrette of raspberry vinegar and walnut oil.

It only seemed appropriate that to cap it all off, I would make a dessert from the same region. So from the same book, I made Wolfert’s walnut tart or as she calls it Walnut Tart from Masseube. This is not a typical tart, more of a cross between a cookie and a tart. The filling is a mixture of walnuts and a dark butter caramel. This gets poured into a tart shell lined with a sweet short pastry crust. Another layer of pastry goes on top and then it is baked. When the tart cools the filling sets pretty firm, like a pecan pie filling minus most of the “goo”. We really loved this with a cup of coffee and a touch of whipped cream.

Labor Day Bocks and Brats

We were in San Antonio this past weekend, so I did not have much time to prepare a full-fledged barbecue spread. San Antonio was a fun close getaway with the family and as usual we had a great meal at Dough Pizzeria Napolitana (might be one of the best of it’s kind in the country) and way too much ice cream at Justin’s and Amy’s. Anyways, back at home by Monday Labor Day, what I did have is some good homemade sausage. So I took out a pack of Bratwurst and the last couple of Bockwurst packs I had. Both sausages are made with a mixture of pork and veal. They also both include dairy and eggs. The Bockwurst includes more onions and more pepper, the brats have a more uniform emulsified texture not unlike that of a hot dog. The Bockwurst were cooked (poached) before freezing so they needed nothing more than grilling to heat up and crisp the casing. The brats were raw, so they were cooked sous vide at 61 C for about an hour before grilling and crisping.

I did go through the trouble of making some proper buns that will stand up to the wieners and not fall apart. I used a recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. A few of these were topped with poppy seeds and the rest baked plain. The buns turned out perfect for the substantial sausages. To serve them, I made a some sautéed onions, peppers, zucchini and tomatoes. Other accompaniments included a few different mustards and some pickled pepperoncini peppers. That was such a fantastic meal for so little work.