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.

The Glorious Croissant 2.0

Croissants were the very first food I posted about in my little blog here. It only seems fitting to update that post with a more picture-rich post. I’ve been using that recipe from Nick Malgieri since then and until now. For Mother’s Day this year, I made Diana some Croissants for breakfast and decided to try a new recipe. This one comes from Peter Reinhart’s “Artisan Breads Everyday“. The general idea behind making the pastry is the same, but where this recipe just triumphs is in the level of detail Reinhart goes to while explaining the process. The result was the most perfect, gorgeous croissants I’ve ever made…to date. Glorious

The dough is made with flour, water, yeast, salt and a little butter. Then the recipe tells you exactly, with pictures, how to properly form the butter “filling” block that gets wrapped in the dough. The butter filled dough gets rolled and folded several times, making for alternate layers of dough and butter. This makes what is called a laminated dough. When the croissants bake the butter melts and the water in it turns to steam, the pastry puffs and crisps making for those lovely layers (same concept as puff pastry, but that has no yeast).

Another important detail in the instructions that for some reason I never caught on when making other recipes is how important it is to have even squared sides. Reinhart instructs several times to trim the dough to get even sides that lay perfectly on top of each other when the dough is folded.

After the last roll of the dough, the dough gets cut into triangles with a short base. A notch is cut into the center of the base of the triangles and the croissants are formed and allowed to proof and rise. When they are ready to bake, I brushed them with an egg wash and baked them. We enjoyed them as usual with Oeuf Cocotte (eggs baked in a ramekins with cream, bacon and herbs), a selection of jams and -a croissant’s best friend- Nutella.

Just Bread

This is basically a gratuitous picture post. I bake bread a couple of times a week and it is normally excellent, but every so often it is something spectacular. This is especially true when I bake a sublime batch of sourdough from my own starter. It’s also pretty cool that the starter is older than my kids.

Corned Beef cooked Sous Vide

I’ve been exploring Sous Vide cooking using my Immersion Circulator often with excellent results. Deli-type meats seem like a no brainer for this cooking method, in this case for corned beef. To prepare the beef, I used a good even piece of brisket (even thickness matters a lot for this method) and trimmed most of the fat off it. Then I brined it using Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie recipe. He used salt, sugar, Cure #1 (a tiny bit gives it the pink color and the cured flavor) and pickling spice (bay, cloves, allspice and black pepper among others).

After a few days, the now corned beef went in a Foodsaver bag along with some more pickling spice and a sliced onion. It cooked for about 8 hours at 170 F in the water bath and then I quickly chilled it in a bowl filled with water and ice. It then sat in the fridge for a few days until I was ready to serve it. My main concern here was salt content. I figured normally corned beef is boiled so some of it’s salt will leach out and the meat ends up well seasoned but not salty. In this case, the meat is vacuum pakced throughout and the salt has nowhere to go.

For service I reheated the beef in some hot water and removed it from the bag. I sliced and tasted a piece. Excellent flavor, definitly not too salty. On the other hand I think it should be a touch more tender. I’m thinking next time I’ll cook it around 175 for closer to 10 hours. For dinner I made sandwiches of course. Homemade marble rye, saurkraut and melted Swiss cheese.

Great Whole Wheat Pizza

I was about to lable this post something stupid like “Healthy Pizza” and then thought better of it. Properly made pizza with a lean, slow fermented dough, formed into a thin crust, sparingly topped with pizza sauce, cheese and little else is a thing of beauty. And yes, it is also healthy, good for you (provided you don’t eat a family sized pie!) and a far cry from the greasy cardboard crusted disgraces that big chains  home-deliver as pizza. I still wish I could come up with a slightly wittier title than Whole Wheat Pizza. Oh well, it is what it is I guess.

I’ve been wanting to give this pizza dough recipe a shot ever since I got Peter Reinhart’s “Whole Grain Breads” book since every other recipe I’ve tried has been wonderful. He uses his original method that combines  a refrigerated biga starter (whole wheat flour, yeast and water) and a “soaker” (whole wheat flour, water and salt). No white flour is used at all and through the magic of enzymes, yeasts and long slow fermentation we end up with a perfect and flavorful dough.

Topped and before it went into the very hot oven

I like mine with an egg in the center. Served it with a very good Lebanese Pinot Noir.

Toppings included cooked tomato sauce, mozzarella, crumbled sausage and homemade ricotta cheese. It was delicious but certainly not “just like” a pizza made with white flour dough. It had a more robust flavor and was light, crispy and chewy. The real test was the kids. I try to give them foods high in fiber whenever possible and this pizza was a big hit with them. A win-win situation really.

Thom Leonard’s French Country Bread

I love these relaxed long baking projects, especially ones that make the time invested (albeit very little actual effort) worthwhile. Recently I stumbled on this wonderful recipe from The Fresh Loaf is a very cool forum for bakers and baking from all over the worId. If you are interested in baking, check it out. I  was so happy with the large loaves it produced, I had to share a picture and a post.

Glorious Croissant


I’ve made, or more like tried to make, these elusive awsome French (well actually they are of Viennese origin) a few times over the past 3 years. Never have been blown away with a recipe. The first one truth be told was downright horrible, with pools of grease that the poor little breads more or less fried in. That recipe was from an online source, although I blame my craftsmanship for that failure, not the recipe. The previous couple of times I used Jacques Pepin’s recipe from his book, the great “The Complete Technique”. These were much better, but they were still to doughy, too bread-like and not near as flaky as I would like.

This all changed last week when I procured a used copy of Nick Malgieri’s “How to Bake”. I bought it mainly because I’ve made his fabulous Dacquaise cake and because it had several recipes for croissants and danishes. What a remarkable imrpovement that croissant recipe had on my result. The croissants were near perfect, flaky, buttery and not in the slightest greasy. With improved technique (read: practice) I think my croissants will rival those of any bakery. Well, at least the ones in Houston.