Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Anis's bread v 1.0

I got a comment from a bread blogger! "What's so special about that?" might you ask. Haven't I gotten comments from food bloggers before? Ah, but it's not a food blogger, it's a bread blogger. They are a completely different breed. They don't wax poetic about their ingredients, they don't take sexy pictures, they don't try to make you forget your cubical and imagine that you are in Tuscany. They write about skill and skill alone. They expect you to speak a certain jargon and know your stuff. If you don't know what autolyse, preferment, and gluten development mean, you might get a little lost, and if you still don't weigh your ingredients, you should not touch bread baking forums and blogs with a 10 foot pole.

As you can imagine the geeky person that I am, I find a great sense of kinship with these folks. But I am a lurker on all these boards and blogs, so all these serious bread bakers don't know I exist. But finally, last week, not only did I get a comment from SteveB from Bread Cetera, but it was so inspiring, I grabbed my bag of flour within a few hours and started baking.

He told me about Anis Bouabsa's baguette method that involves very little yeast (1/4 tsp per 500g flour) and a very long fermentation period (1 hour room temp and 21 hours refrigerated). I decided to give it a try, but shape it into a boule since I don't know how to shape baguettes yet. The following are my notes to myself and lessons learnt.


500g AP flour
0.8 g instant yeast (about 1/4 tsp)
11g salt (about 4 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher salt)
413g water (about 1 3/4 cup)

What I did
Mixed flour, yeast and water and let sit for 20 minutes (atolyse).  Added salt and kneaded by slapping and folding on the counter about 30 times.  Then let it rest in a bowl 20 minutes and knead again. Then let it rest in a bowl 20 more minutes and knead again.   In other words, let sit at room temp for 1 hour kneading at 20 minutes, 40 minutes and 60 minutes.  Then put in the fridge for about 24 hours.  It didn't seam to rise as much as I am used to, so I let it sit at room temp about 1 hour before shaping.  Shaped into a boule.  I did a lousy shaping job this time -- forgot to deflate and trapped some flour inside the loaf.  Proofed for 2 hours and baked in a cast iron pot.  I preheated it to 500F for 30 minutes, lowered the bread on a parchment paper sling.  Reduced oven to 425F, baked 30 minutes covered.  Then 25 more minutes uncovered reducing the oven to 400F for the last 10 minutes.  Internal temp was 209F.

The good
The flavor was wonderfully wheaty and sweet.

The bad
I ended up with some huge holes and some very dense and doughy areas.  Probably a combination of not enough rising during primary fermentation, forgetting to deflate, and poor shaping.

What to try next
  • I shouldn't take "1 hour at room temp" literally.  It depends on the kitchen temp of course, and I should have given it longer.
  • I should try it with half AP and half Bread flour (I didn't have any bread flour until today).
  • Don't forget to deflate before shaping.
  • Reduce water to 1 2/3 cups
  • I really need to learn to shape -- anyone knows of good videos?
  • Need to bake longer.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ciabatta 2.0 (no biga)

I have finally debigafied (is that a verb?  I think it should be) Rose Beranbaum's ciabatta from the Bread Bible with no ill effects. First let me explain what I mean by debigafied. Most serious bread bakers agree that to coax more flavor out of wheat, you can't use the direct method of bread making: make dough, rise, shape, proof, bake. What you need is an indirect method: make preferment, rise, make dough, rise, shape, proof, bake. Preferments come in many shapes and sizes and go by names of biga, poolish, pate fermente, and preferment to name a few. Their flour to water ratios vary, but they all have the same idea -- mix part of the total amount of flour, yeast, and water before making the main dough and let it rise. Then add the remaining flour, yeast, water, salt, and whatever other ingredients in your bread and make the main dough. From there on, it's the usual rise, shape, proof, bake. Every bread book I know of swears by preferments. The only time I've encountered an alternative method was in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 2. Instead of a preferment, she gives her baguette dough 2 long rises, then shape, proof, bake.

As much as I love Beranbaum's book, I find Julia's method to be more convenient without sacrificing the final result. You measure and mix only once and then you can spread out your baking project over 1-3 days to make it more convenient.  If you don't think you'll get to it today just put the dough in the fridge.  Of course, you can put a preferment in the fridge and use later, but you need to let it come to room temperature for about an hour before using it in the dough (or so the baking books say). It just imposes a bit more scheduling than I am willing to deal with.

I am yet to see a reasonable explanation of why a preferment plus one rise is better than no preferment and 2 rises. I'll try to e-mail Kenji Alt. If anyone would question this assumption he would. But here is my hypothesis. The reason preferments are so convenient in a professional bakery is that they take up less space and fewer large containers. The downside of measuring twice and mixing twice is not a big deal in a bakery. They have all ingredients and equipment out at all times and people there 24/7 to deal with making dough. At home, it's a totally different story. I don't mind if my big bowl is occupied for 1-3 days, but I am not around at any hour of the day to measure and mix.

So, here is my version of Beranbaum's ciabatta. It differs from the original in the following ways:
  • I mix all ingredients from the start instead of making a biga first
  • I use 4.5g salt (about 3/4 tsp table salt or slightly more than 1.5 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher) instead of 3.3g in the original recipe (about 1/2 tsp table salt or 1.25 tsp DCK)
  • I shape and bake on parchment paper instead of on a baking sheet
The bad news is that you need a stand up mixer. I am a huge advocate of mixing by hand, but this dough is so insanely wet, I think it would be tricky.  The good news is that this recipe is very easy to master once you learn a few bread baking basics: please read "Notes about Ingredients and How to Measure them" from the focaccia post if you decide to try it. This is crucial to the success of your bread.

Make the dough (at least 8 hours before baking or several days ahead)

211 g unbleached all-purpose flour (7.35 oz)
1 g SAF instant yeast (about 1/4 tsp)
4.5 g salt (about 3/4 tsp table salt or slightly more than 1.5 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher)
177 g water at 70-90F degrees (3/4 cup)

Spray a 1 quart glass measuring cup (or an equivalent container) with cooking spray or grease with oil.

Combine flour, yeast, and salt in a bowl of a stand up mixer. Mix on low for about 30 seconds to combine using a paddle attachment. Add the water and continue mixing until all the flour is moistened. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula and raise the speed to medium-high (#6 on KitchenAid). Mix for 3 minutes. At first the dough will be almost soupy, but by the end of the 3 minutes it should wrap itself around the paddle and clear the sides and bottom of the bowl (if it doesn't, beat another 2 minutes on medium-high). Lower the speed to medium (#4 on KitchenAid) and beat for 2 minutes.

First rise (2-4 hours)
Using an oiled spatula or dough scraper, scrape the dough into the oiled container. The easiest way to do it is to detach the paddle attachment as soon as you stop mixing and lift out the dough with it (if you wait, the dough will pour back into the bowl).  Lightly spray or oil the top and push down the dough.  You should have about 1 cup of it. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap and let the dough rise until tripled (about 3 cups). This will be very easy to tell if you are using a glass measuring cup as your rising container. This rise can take as short as 2 hours at about 80F or as long as 4 hours at about 65F.

Second rise (2-4 hours)
Knead the dough briefly (about 20 folds and turns) right in the bowl using a plastic bowl scraper or an oiled hand. Try to pop as many bubbles as possible. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise until almost quadrupled the original volume (about 4 cups). This can take 2-4 hours depending on the temperature.

Shaping and proofing (1-2 hours)
Lay a large piece of parchment paper (about 17x22 inches) on a rimless cookie sheet. Sift a generous amount of flour on one side of it into a 10x8 inch rectangle. Turn the dough out onto the flour and sprinkle the top generously with flour. Using the palms of your hands against the sides of the dough, push it together slightly. Using your fingertips, make large deep dimples in the dough about 1 inch apart, elongating it.  Push the sides together a second time. This process wrinkles the bottom of the dough, which will become the top when inverted, and creates the classic lines in the crust. Brush off excess flour of the top with a pastry brush.  

Flip the empty half of the parchment over the dough and carefully flip the dough over onto it. The dough should be 10-11 inches in length. Push in the sides so that the dough is about 4.5 inches wide. It will be 1/2 -1 inches high.  Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap. Allow it to rise in a warm spot for 1.5 - 2 hours or until it's about 1 - 1.5 inches high.

Preheat the oven (1 hour before baking)
Preheat the oven to 475F 1 hour before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place a baking stone or baking sheet on it (position it short side to front and back of the oven and move it over to one side slightly to make space for your steaming contraption). Set a small cast iron skillet to the side of the stone (I find it easier to put ice cubes into it when it's not underneath the stone as most books suggest). Or use whatever steaming method you are used to.

Bake the bread
Remove the plastic wrap and trim the parchment paper with scissors to leave a 2 inch border around the dough. Slide the bread with the parchment paper right onto the stone and quickly add 1/2 cup of ice cubes to the pan and shut the door. Or use whatever steaming method you are used to. Bake for 5 minutes. Lower the temperature to 450F and bake for 10 minutes. Turn the bread around for even baking, remove the pan with remaining water from ice-cubes, and bake for 10 more minutes or until the bread is deep golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center will read about 214F. Turn off the oven, prop the door open with a wooden spoon wrapped in foil, and allow the bread to sit for 5 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack and brush off the flour from the surface.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ciabatta 1.0

So maybe my focaccia turned out bitter, but what a ciabatta it inspired!  How could a bread taste bitter?  Beats me.  It was a no-knead focaccia recipe from sept - oct 2010 issue of Cook's Illustrated.  I followed it to the letter and ended up with a bitter bread.  Here is my guess as to the culprits: a starter that went bad or using non-stick cake pans.  Since the cake pans are exactly the ones recommended by Cook's illustrated (not for this recipe per say, but in general), I am guessing they probably didn't cause the problem.  The recipe does call for using them at a higher heat than they are designed for (I don't think you should normally use teflon pans at 500F), so I was concerned that might have contributed an off flavor.  But when I started investigating the biga starter they have you use, I figured the pans were probably not my problem.  Cook's suggests using 1/4 tsp instant yeast per 2.5 oz flour in the biga.  That's about 4 times the normal ratio of yeast to flour in biga.  They also suggest that you let it rise for 8-24 hours.  A normal rise for biga is up to 6 hours.  I let it rise for 18 hours and I am guessing it went bad.

Under normal circumstances, I'd set up a few experiments to figure out exactly where this recipe went wrong. But I have a 3 year old and 6 week old on my hands right now and baking more bread that ends up in the trash is not my idea of fun at the moment.  Besides, the texture of Cook's focaccia seemed much more appropriate for ciabatta.  That's what I decided to learn to make inspired by the lovely open crumb (big holes) of my unsuccessful focaccia experiment.

At first, I thought I'll modify Cook's recipe to turn it into a ciabatta, but on the second thought decided to go with Rose Beranbaum's ciabatta from The Bread Bible.  As most of Rose's recipes, it turned out extremely well even on the first try.  But once I messed with it a tad, it was absolutely fantastic.  I upped the salt from 3.3 grams to 4.5 grams and decided to add another rise before shaping and proofing.  The basic schedule looked like this:
  • make a biga, let rise for 6 hours, deflate and refrigerate overnight
  • make dough and let rise until tripled (4 hours at about 65F)
  • knead a bit by folding with a plastic dough scraper right in the bowl where the dough is rising
  • let rise again until almost quadrupled the original volume (4 more hours at about 65F)
  • shape, and proof for 1.5 hours 
  • bake
The recipe suggests to be careful not to pop the bubbles when shaping.  I did that the first time and ending up with bubbles that were too huge.  On the second try, I was a bit more aggressive with dimpling and stretching and the texture was perfect.

The only annoying thing about this bread is the schedule.  If I could get rid of biga and replace it with another rise retarded in the fridge, the whole thing would be much more doable on regular basis.  If I manage to make it work, I'll post the recipe.  Meanwhile, try Rose's.  It's lovely.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fruit Focaccia

Baking a decent baguette at home is hard.  Baking a great baguette at home is extremely hard.  Baking a better baguette at home than I can get at Clear Flour or the sadly closed B&R is impossible.  But baking a focaccia that is better than anything I can buy in Boston is very doable.  That's why I love baking it so much.  It all started with the grape focaccia I had while on vacation in Vancouver.  It was a show stopping bread and I was terribly sad that I wouldn't be able to get it in Boston, so I decided to try to make my own.  It turned out to be quiet a project.  Sure I could bake something that looked like focaccia and had grapes in it, but if I was going to recreate that lovely bread, I had to learn a lot about bread baking.  After a couple of  years of occasional experimenting, I managed to bake a perfect plain focaccia (with rosemary).  But adding the grapes turned out to be a challenge.

Last weekend, it finally worked (it wasn't exactly like the Vancouver version, but still very good), so I wanted to take some notes on what I did, so that I remember for next time.


If using grapes, it's very important to use Concord grapes.  Regular supermarket grapes don't seem to have the right flavor and make the dough too wet.  I have also tried using apples and that worked very well too.


A mixture of roasted pecans and walnuts worked well. For the grape focaccia, I used them as a topping and many of them popped off during eating.  On the apple focaccia, I folded the nuts into the dough -- that worked better.


I used my regular focaccia recipe, with the following modifications:
  • Increase sugar to 2 Tbsp
  • knead a bit less than usual to make it slightly less chewy.  Using a KitchenAid, I kneaded for 3 minutes, rearranged the dough, kneaded another 3 minutes, rearranged the dough, and another minute.  All on speed 4.
  • After shaping, I pushed the toppings into the dough and proofed for 40 minutes.  I pushed the apple slices vertically, not to deflate the dough as much.  They became horizontal as the dough pushed them up during baking.
  • I sprinkled the top with demerara sugar before baking and skipped the oiling after baking step.
  • Bake at 450F instead of 500F and watch out for the bottom burning (since the dough has more sugar).