Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sourdough Bread

When it comes to baking, bread has never been my forte.  It has always come out heavy, dense and hard as a rock.  In part, I put the onus on yeast which never seems to want to reside happily within the confines of my kitchen.  But honestly, I can't blame the yeast completely.  My apartment as a whole seems to lack good thermal regulation--it's too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer.

And since yeast is very particular about the temperature in which it inclines itself to flourish, I don't always have much luck.  However, it's spring now and the heat is off, the air conditioner has yet to be called to duty and it just so happens that the temperature in my kitchen has been consistent.  It has consistently been at just the right temperature for my diva-like yeast to strut its stuff. Thus it's bread making season for me.

With the help of an even keel temperature in my kitchen and King Arthur, lately I've been making some pretty good breads.  So I feel that my latest project should not go unmentioned.  As all of you who have ever made a sourdough know, it requires a starter.  And a sourdough starter is created by capturing wild yeast in your own home.

Basically, if you set out a bowl of flour and water mixed together, it will attract yeast.  By nurturing it--feeding it more flour and water--you encourage the yeast to grow and thrive.  It will double in size, it will effuse a fruity and tangy aroma and it will be bubbly.

It's important that you grow a good starter because when you go to actually make your bread, you don't add any additional pre-packaged yeast to the dough.  You are relying solely on the wild yeast you have caught as the leavening agent.  So you have to be good to your starter--feed it, keep it warm (but not too warm) and safe, love it, maybe even sing to it.  It's basically your child or--if you prefer--your pet.

After a week, I felt like I had raised a good starter.  It doubled in size after I fed it, it smelled fruity and tangy and it had some bubbling goin on. I've never been prouder.  The rest of the process--as far as the actual making of the bread--was fairly straightforward.  The one thing about this dough is that it's pretty sticky.  But luckily you don't spend a lot of time kneading it.  However, you do have to form it into tight boules and due to its sticky nature, it's a little difficult to handle.  Yet with some lightly floured hands and some perseverance, it is manageable.

Another thing about this bread was that you need to provide some steam in the oven for the first five minutes into baking. Apparently this helps create a good crust.  Since I don't have an oven that creates steam, I did what my King Arthur cookbook suggested.  Before I preheated the oven, I placed an empty cast iron skillet in it on the rack directly below the rack that I used to bake the bread on. Once the oven was preheated--and right after I placed the unbaked dough in it--I poured about a half of a cup of already very hot water into the cast iron skillet and poof, there was my steam. It was almost magical.

Anyway....for my first sourdough I think it came out well.  It was kind of spongy (which I think is the right texture) and had that tang that you'll find in most breads of that nature.  The crust was crusty as it should be--I'm not sure what else to say about that.  Although, I may have over-baked one of the boules a bit so part of its crust was a little darker than I would have liked but I wouldn't say it was burnt.

I have to admit that I have always been a little intimidated by bread baking.  I  suppose it has something to do with the fact that there's a lot of history behind it--I mean that it has been around a really long time.  And in that time people have had time to perfect it and make it a true craft.  And that is what gives me a little pause when I think about baking some bread--there's a lot to learn in both technique and the different mediums used to make it which seems overwhelming.  Nevertheless, I think I'm off to a good start.

Recipe ever so slightly adapted from Whole Grain Baking by King Arthur Flour

1c (9oz) ripe whole wheat sourdough starter
1 2/3c (6 5/8oz) white whole wheat flour
2 2/3c (11 1/4oz) white unbleached bread flour
1 1/2c (12oz) water at room temp.
1 T honey
2 tsp kosher salt

Using the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the starter, flours and water together on the lowest possible speed until the flours are moistened.  Then, let the dough rest for 20 minutes. After the 20 minutes are up, add the salt and honey to the bowl.  Replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook and--on low speed--run the mixer for 2-3 minutes.  Turn the mixer off, cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a tea towel and let the dough proof for 45 minutes.  After the 45 minutes is up, flour your work surface well.  Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto the work surface.  Flour your hands and lightly pat the dough into a rectangle--maybe 12 inches long by 6 inches wide (there wasn't any specified dimensions in the cookbook so I think that's about the size I patted the dough out to). Next, using a bench scraper fold the rectangle of dough into thirds like a letter--at the short sides. Then, fold it again--like a letter--at the short sides.  So now you have a rather bulbous rectangular prism of dough.  Place it back in the bowl, cover the bowl and let the dough proof again for another 45 minutes.  FYI, apparently this folding of the dough between proofs is a sort of substitution for punching down dough that has already proofed once.  After this second 45 minutes of proofing is up, you're going to do the same thing you did after the first one.  Remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a well floured surface, pat it into a rectangle and then fold it into thirds twice.  Place the dough back into the bowl, cover the bowl and let it proof for another 45 minutes.  At the end of the 45 minutes, place a baking stone or pizza stone in the middle rack of your oven.  Then place an empty cast iron skillet on the rack below the one where the stone is sitting.  Preheat the oven to 450 F.  Next, take two bowls that are close in size and line them each with a tea towel--or some sort of linen towel--and then sprinkle some flour over the towels.  No, pull the dough out of the bowl and place it on a well-floured surface.  Divide the dough in half, flour your hands and shape each half into a boule.  Place each boule into a prepared bowl, cover them and let them proof for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile--your oven is preheating and your dough is in its final proof--heat at least a half of cup of water on the stove and bring it almost to a boil.  Then, line a rimless baking sheet with parchment paper--or turn a rimmed baking sheet over so the bottom is the top and line it with parchment paper. When the oven is preheated and the boules are done proofing, turn the bowls (I know it's confusing--the whole boule/bowl thing--I'm sorry!) upside down onto the parchment paper so that the boules fall out of the bowls and are sitting atop the parchment paper.  Remove the tea towels and dust away any excess flour sitting on the dough. Open the oven door and quickly transfer/slide the parchment paper with the boules from the baking sheet to the hot baking stone. Right after they are safely on the stone, take the hot water and carefully pour it in the hot cast iron skillet (it will sizzle and steam up). Quickly close the door and let the dough bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, reduce the temperature of the oven to 425 F and let the bread bake for another 20-30 minutes--or until the internal temperature of the bread reads 210 F. Remove the bread from the oven and let cool before slicing into.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Carrot Cake with Pecan Cream Frosting

The main impetus for making this cake was based on a recently acquired ability that I've happily added to my baking repertoire.  And that would be making my own nut pastes.  Nut pastes can be expensive and aside from almond paste--which seems to be more readily available--hard to find.

Unless you order them online of course.  But I don't always feel like waiting or paying for that  stuff. So, I found a great step by step recipe/guide to making a pistachio paste and it's very easy.  And  I figured that I could adapt it to use with other nuts as well.  With that, I decided I wanted to make a pecan paste.

But then I was wondering what the heck I was going to do with it.  Honestly, I'm not sure what to do with nut pastes except eat them all by themselves--they're pretty darn good on their own. Nevertheless, I was thinking that maybe they'd make a good flavoring agent in a frosting for a cake. So, I had a possible pecan butter cream or whipped cream frosting on deck but no cake yet.  And I guess I could have made any type of cake but carrot cake--with it's spice-heavy make-up seemed like a good match.

PAC-MAN shot

Plus, sometimes people put nuts into their carrot cakes right?  But instead of incorporating the nut element into the cake, I decided to do it with the frosting.  Ingenious.  I know. Probably never been done before.

And actually--admittedly--I'm not a huge proponent of cream cheese frostings--which is commonly used for carrot cakes.  In fact, aside from a cheese cake--which is supposed to be cream cheesy--I could live without the stuff (I know--perhaps I speak baking blasphemy).  I don't like it in frosting or mousses--I feel like it's used a bit too liberally.

People want something that has some body to it so they turn to cream cheese--and it's a turn-off for me.  So my pecan cream frosting seemed way better. I thought about developing my own carrot cake recipe but then I realized that I don't exactly know what I want that recipe to be like.  I love carrot cake but I'm just not sure I've experienced enough carrot cake to accurately decide what I do and do not like with it.  So with that, I decided on a recipe from my Vintage Cakes cookbook.

This recipe was slightly different than some of the recipes I've seen in that it uses part all-purpose flour and part whole wheat pastry flour--maybe to give it a nuttier flavor?  I'm not sure it came through in the finished product but it certainly didn't hinder any of the cake's other flavors--which were quite lovely.

Also, there's a note in the recipe with suggestions of what to add to your carrot cake--with the intent to "make it your own".  Ingredients like currants, raisins, coconut and pineapple were mentioned. In an effort to find my own carrot cake recipe, I took up this suggestion and added some chopped-up pineapple to the batter.

I thought it was a nice addition but as odd as it may seem, I didn't like the way it looked in the cake--like the orange carrot color and the yellow pineapple.  It seemed very un-carrot cake like. Again, I know it seems weird. But I also didn't think that it really added anything more to the cake. In other words, as far as flavor goes, I could take it or leave.  So, when I finally do develop my own carrot cake recipe, I'll probably be leaving the pineapple out.

Recipe adapted from Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson

1c (5oz) all-purpose flour
1c (4 3/4oz) whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (I used freshly grated nutmeg)
1 1/2c (10 1/2oz) granulated sugar
1/2c (3 3/4oz) packed brown sugar (I used light brown but you could used dark too)
3/4c vegetable oil
4 large eggs at room temp.
1/2c buttermilk at room temp.
1 lb peeled and coarsely grated carrots (about 3 cups)
1c chopped pineapple (chopped to about 1/4 inch cubes)

First, grease the sides and the bottom of two round 9 inch cake pans.  Then, line the bottoms of each pan with parchment paper.  Preheat the oven to 350 F.  In a medium sized bowl, sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices together and then whisk to fully combine them.  Set them aside.  In the bowl of a stand mixer and using the paddle attachment, combine the sugars and oil. Mix for about 3 minutes on medium speed--scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl a couple times to make sure it all gets fully combined.  Next, add the eggs one at a time--adding the next egg right after the previous one becomes fully incorporated into the batter.  After all of the eggs have been incorporated, turn the mixer up to medium-high speed and mix the batter for 3 minutes.  It will increase in volume and lighten in color during this time.  Now, turn the mixer down to its lowest setting and add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating between them and the buttermilk--first add 1/3 of the dry ingredients and mix until just combined, then 1/2 of the buttermilk just until combined, 1/3 dry, rest of buttermilk and finally the remaining of the dry ingredients being careful to mix each addition until just combined.  Finally, turn off the mixer and using a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the carrots and pineapple just until evenly incorporated.  Divide the batter evenly between the 2 baking pans.  Bake the cakes for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean and the top of each cake springs back when lightly touched by your finger.  Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool for about 30 minutes in the pans before removing them from the pans.  Cool completely before assembly and frosting.

Pecan cream frosting recipe

3c of cold heavy whipping cream
1/2c of granulated sugar
1c pecan paste at room temp.

Before you start, place the bowl of a stand mixer and the whisk attachment in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.  After the bowl and whisk are cold, pour all of the cream in the bowl and whisk on medium speed.  When the cream has thickened up a bit slowly pour the sugar into the bowl while the mixer is running.  Whisk until stiff peaks have formed.  Turn the mixer off and switch to the paddle attachment.  Add in the pecan paste and mix on low speed until it has been fully incorporated.  Use the frosting immediately or refrigerate it--covered--until ready for use.

For assembly, spread a small amount of frosting on your preferred cake platter.  Set 1 layer on top of the frosted cake platter and then spread about 1 cup of the frosting on top of the bottom layer.  Top that with the second layer and then frost as desired with the remaining frosting.  You may not need to use all of it--I had maybe a 1/2c to 1 cup left over.  Slice and enjoy.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Kouign Amann

I haven't posted in a while.  It's not as though I haven't been baking.  I have.  Like tons.  The truth of the matter is that I've been obsessed with making two particular things that I just can't seem to get right.  The infamously finicky Parisian macaron and laminated dough.

I don't even want to discuss the former of the two because I'm still irritated about it.  And plus, how many more posts about macarons do we need in the food blogging world?  Macarons are easy, they're not easy, blah blah blah.  Instead, this post is dedicated to laminated dough--and moreover one of the wonders that can arise from it, the kouign amann.

Kouign amann is almost like a candied croissant. It's quite buttery but also sweet because the dough has been sprinkled with sugar so it caramelizes when baked. Because of my extreme sweet tooth, I think I enjoy them more than actual croissants.  In the past month I've made them twice using two different recipes.

The first batch had some successful aspects but I was convinced that its flaws could be traced back to a problem I consistently have with laminated doughs which is that the dough tends to tear at certain points when I'm rolling it out.  It's a really annoying.  I've read all about why this may happen--the dough gets too warm maybe because the room is too warm so you have to let it chill.

Or, maybe everything is too cold.  I've tried to make sure my butter block and my dough are the same temperature and all that but I still get some tearing.  However, this last batch of laminated dough that I used to make the kouign amann started tearing at first but fortunately--maybe because I learned how to better roll out the dough--seemed to cease tearing.

And so most of those oh so delicate layers seemed to have remained in tact.  Which is what I like to see.  At least I think.  I know that the purpose of laminated dough is to create those layers and for pastries, like croissants and mille feuille, it's usually clearly visible if you're successful at it.

But I'm not sure I'm convinced that it's equally as important with kougin amann.  And I only question this because for one thing, you usually don't turn the dough as much as you would for something like croissants.  And, I've been doing some...uhm..."research" from some trusted bakeries that make kouign amann and I've noticed that perhaps their laminated doughs that they use to make them aren't quite as layered.

They're delicious no doubt but comparatively not layered like a croissant.  So I don't know what the deal is with all that but as long as my kouign amann come out light, buttery and caramelized--I'm ok with it.

Recipe slightly adapted from The Kitchn

1c water at room temp.
2 tsp instant yeast
2 3/4c all-purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
8 oz (2 sticks) cold salted butter
1 1/2c granulated sugar--divided

The first thing that needs to be done is making the dough.  Mix the water, yeast, flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Using the dough hook, mix everything together on medium speed until a tacky, not sticky, smooth dough forms.  If the dough is too sticky after mixing it, add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time until it's tacky feeling.  Alternatively, if it's too dry then you can add 1 tablespoon of water at a time until the reverse occurs.  After you've got a nice smooth tacky feeling dough, let the dough rest and rise until it has doubled in size at room temp.  Once it has doubled in size, place the dough in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to chill.

Meanwhile, you can make the butter block.  Lay a piece of plastic wrap on a cool/cold work surface. Take your 2 sticks of butter and place them atop the plastic wrap.  Now, you want to form a pliable butter block that when folded it won't crack--it should act like modeling clay does when it is folded over on itself.  So, you will go through a series of pounding butter and folding it in an effort to make a more cohesive and pliable butter block.  So, sprinkle some flour on the butter and--using a rolling pin--start pounding the butter so that you have one cohesive piece of butter and then pound it into a rectangular shape that's about a 1/4 inch thick.  Then--preferably using a bench scraper or something other than your warm hands--fold the butter in half and pound it again until you have a rectangle that's about 1/4 inch thick.  Sprinkle some more flour on the butter and fold it in half with the bench scraper, pound it back into a rectangle that's a 1/4 inch thick AND is approximately 6 inches wide by 10 inches long.  Wrap the block in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready for use BUT, ideally you want your dough and butter block to be at the same temperature.  So, if your dough has already been chilling in the refrigerator for a while and you are getting ready to roll it out, you probably only need to chill your butter block for just a little bit--maybe 15 minutes.  You still want your butter block pliable and if it sits in the fridge for too long it will become rigid again and will likely crack when you start making your turns.

To roll out the dough, remove it from the refrigerator.  Sprinkle your work surface with flour.  Roll out the dough over the flour into a 12 inch wide by 20 inch long rectangle.  Place your butter block in the middle of the rolled out dough so that the long side of the butter block is parallel with the short side of the dough.  Fold the top half of the dough over the butter block and then fold the bottom half over it as well--like folding a letter.  Press and seal the edges of the dough together and then fold it into thirds again.  Rotate it so that narrower side is facing you--like a book.  Roll the dough out--using more flour as needed to prevent any sticking--into a 12 inch wide by 20 inch long rectangle. Fold it into thirds again--like a letter.  Rotate the dough 90 degrees so that the narrow end is facing you and roll it out again into a 12 inch wide by 20 inch long rectangle.  Fold it into thirds again, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.  After the 30 minutes is up, remove the dough from the fridge, sprinkle more flour on your work surface and roll it out to a 12 inch by 20 inch rectangle. Then, sprinkle half of the sugar over the surface of the dough and lightly press it into the dough.  Fold the dough into thirds, rotate it 90 degrees and then roll it out into another 12 inch by 20 inch rectangle.  Sprinkle the remaining sugar on the dough and lightly press it into the dough. Fold the dough into thirds, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare 12 - 4 inch pastry rings or a muffin baking sheet.  Grease the rings or muffin cups with butter and sprinkle granulated sugar on the insides of them.  Set aside.

Once the dough has chilled, roll it out again onto a well floured work surface into an 8 inch wide by 24 inch long rectangle.  Then, cut the dough in half along the long side so that you now have two 4 inch wide by 24 inch long rectangles.  Then divide each rectangle into 4 inch by 4 inch squares--you'll have 12 total. Next, push each square into its own pastry ring or muffin cup and fold the corners of each square over to the center of the square so that they all meet in the middle and then press lightly to seal.  Then, cover the kouign amann and let rise for 30-40 minutes until they have risen and are puffy.  Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 350 F.  Once you are ready to bake the kouign amann, sprinkle the tops of each one with some more granulated sugar and then place them in the oven to bake for 40-45 minutes, rotating the pan 180 degrees halfway through the baking time.  Once done, remove them from the oven and let them cool slightly before removing from the rings.  Consume.