Friday, March 21, 2008

Celebration Breads

In the last week we have made two Celebration Breads, one for St. Patrick's Day and one for Easter. Amy used her Irish Soda Bread recipe from her mother for us to eat Monday. I made my first attempt in over 10 years at a braided Easter Bread. The braid tasted great, and looked pretty good after I figured out the right technique about a third of the way into braiding the loaf. Here's the recipe for the Soda Bread...
Irish Bread from Father Brian’s Mother

4 cups unbleached flour
3 tsps baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
6 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 stick of butter NOT oleo, softened
2-3 cups buttermilk
1 cup raisins
1 tbsp caraway seeds

Combine dry ingredients. Cut in soft butter. Add seeds and raisins. Mix well. Add 2 cups buttermilk. Mix gently – if dry, add more buttermilk 1 tbsp at a time to make nice soft dough. It will be sticky.

Turn onto lightly floured board. Shape into round with floured hands. Cut a deep cross in top. Place in buttered 8 or 9 inch black fry pan or 8 or 9 inch layer cake tin – Not Glass. Bake at 350 degrees 45 min or until it tests done.

Some folks sift dry ingredients- my mom did – I never do.
Some folks use baking soda – I don’t, unless the buttermilk is fresh. I usually use buttermilk when it is thick and glops out of the container – about 3-4 weeks old. You can tell if it is going to be good, it actually “talks” to you when you are shaping it on board. You can “hear” it rising – truly.

Good Luck. Have the kettle up for tea, with plenty of butter and jam at the ready. Enjoy.
P.S. Try it toasted (not a conventional toaster) in toaster oven. It’s super, can also be frozen.

And a Picture...

...and some poorly composed, yet accurate shots of my braid.

I'm still trying to figure out not only how to make my blog posts look nice, but my bread photos. Anyway, the breads themselves look good. I chose to do the braid for my first entry in the Bread Baking Day #8 challenge, brought to us this month by Susan. The recipe I used is adapted from Daniel Leader's "Local Breads".

Czech Easter (or Christmas) Braid

Warm Whole Milk 213 g
Egg Yolks 2
Instant Yeast 5 g
AP Flour 304 g
Butter, Unsalted 50 g
Granulated Sugar 50 g
Sea Salt 6 g
Raisins 95 g

Egg Wash
Whole Egg 1
Granulated Sugar 50 g

1. Combine Egg Yolks and Milk in mixing bowl and stir to blend. Add yeast, flour, butter, sugar and salt and mix on Kitchenaid #2 to combine into a rough dough. Switch to the dough hook and knead on Kitchenaid # 4 10-12 minutes (I did 12) until smooth and elastic. Scrape down the bowl and add raisins & knead until evenly distributed (took me 1 minute).
2. Ferment in a lightly oiled bowl for 1.5 to 2 hours until nearly doubled. It took 2 hours here in chilly Northern NY.
3. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and form into a rectangle.
4. Using a bench knife or chefs knife, cut into 3 even pieces.
5. Working from the center, roll into 12 inch dowels with your hands.
6. On a lightly oiled baking sheet, arrange the 3 dowels parallel to each other and press bottom ends together.
7. Braid them. I hope you know how to do this, because I am not good enough at it that I can visualize the process well enough to explain it coherently.
8. Proof in a warm place for about another 1.5 hours until they look light and pillowy.
9. Combine egg wash ingredients, mix well and brush the loaf with egg wash.
10. In a preheated 350 F oven, bake for about 40 minutes rotating at 15 minutes and checking at 30. The crust will be a deep, dark, golden brown and very shiny.

I sliced into it about 50 minutes after it came out of the oven and it was very nice. It definitely staled very quickly though so I'd eat it or freeze within less than 24 hours.

In other news, I made these Bavarian Pretzel Rolls

this morning for the restaurant where I am Chef and got paid for them and everything!
It's nice to do something you enjoy and get paid for it.

Darnit, I just looked at the post and I need to re-organize the photos. Can't do it right now; time to get ready for work.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Experiments in Rye

It's not enough that I cultivated one wild yeast starter. After reading Daniel Leader's "Local Breads" I decided I'd better cultivate a separate Rye levain too. My first starter, a white wheat levain, was started with a high percentage of Rye since it has a higher ash content(good minerals & other yeast food)and possibly more wild yeast. After getting it started, though, I have fed it with High Gluten organic White Flour. So far, all the breads I have made have been predominantly made from White Flour, either AP or High Gluten. Now I want to try some high percentage Rye breads which seem to need to be leavened by the higher acid Rye levain that I'm building now. I'm on Day 3 of building and so far so good. OK, so I may have cheated and not followed Leader's exact process since I started with a piece of my white starter instead of capturing new yeast only with Rye Flour. But, I figure that pretty soon with the amount of Rye I'm using each day, it will be all Rye. I think by tomorrow it will be built to the point that I can start refreshing it on a daily or weekly basis depending on my baking schedule.

Since I like to be organized and track my progress, I'm keeping an Excel spreadsheet charting the daily progress of my starters. Some day, maybe even later today if I can figure out how to do it, I will put a link to the spreadsheet in here somewhere for anyone interested enough to check it out. For now, though, here's the idea in brief. I am keeping track of such things as the amount of starter:water:flour that I use in each daily refreshing of the starter. By the way, for those who don't know, refreshing is done to feed the yeast and allow it to keep propagating so I'll always have a starter to use when I want to bake bread. I also track the time of day, temperature at feeding time, 12/24 hour volume increase, flavor and aroma at 12 and 24 hours, and make notes about the bread that I bake each time I use the starter. With my wheat based starter I shoot for a 1:3:3 ratio and 100% hydration (equal weights in grams of water and flour). The Rye starter will be stiffer, about 80% hydration. Sorry, this is probably pretty dry reading for anyone who isn't obsessed with bread, but I'm doing this as much to explain it to myself so I can understand it better, as much as for anyone else's benefit. I promise there will be pictures and recipes coming soon, once I dig out the camera and have time to bake again. I guess I'd better get moving if I want to take part in the Bread Baking Day challenge for this month and do a festive bread of some kind.

Oh yeah, one more thing...reading about bread in the several books and blogs that I use, there is only a loose kind of consistency in the use of the words starter, levain, leaven, sourdough etc. I'll try to stick to using either levain or starter, and what I'm talking about is the wild yeast cultures that I've captured, cultivated and now maintain by feeding regularly and then use to raise or leaven my breads instead of commercial yeast. I don't have any problem with using commercial yeast, it's just a cool and fun and addicting little home science experiment to do it with something I've cultivated myself. Thanks to Susan at wildyeastblog for exhorting us to weigh our ingredients instead of measuring by volume! My bread baking efforts have improved radically since I took that advice.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

So, the reason I'm back trying again with this blogging thing is that I want to start doing monthly Bread Baking Day challenges that I discovered at my new favorite blog "Wild Yeast Blog". I figure that blogging about it is one more way to get myself invested in actually doing it consistently. I've become just a little obsessed with bread baking after finally having success cultivating and maintaining a wild yeast starter or levain. Fortunately, Amy & the kids all seem to like the end product so I'm getting away with it so far. Today, I made Pretzels leavened with commercial yeast today from a formula in "Local Breads" by Daniel Leader, a baker in the Catskills. They were foolishly easy compared to the multi-day, multi-build sourdoughs I've been doing recently...and they turned out great!

This months Bread Baking Day challenge is hosted by Susan, the woman who does the Wild Yeast Blog. Holiday or Celebratory breads are the theme. Seeing that tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day, Amy has already done her part by making her grandmothers Irish Soda Bread today. I'll try to take a picture of it before we eat it all to put along with whatever I decide to do for Easter. I think I might try a braided Easter bread; it's been quite a while since my last frustrating attempt at braiding.