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Can you really make great bread in five minutes a day?

I’m working my way through the book “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day,” by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François, where the idea is that you make a big batch of dough, place it in the refrigerator, and then use chunks over the next couple of weeks. But is it really possible to make bread that (a) doesn’t need to be kneaded, (b) only takes five minutes of active work to make, and (c), tastes just as good as bread that takes hours and hours to make (like the breads in Reinhart’s “Crust and Crumb”)?

I was ready to find out. So, I’ve made a big, fat batch of dough that is now resting in the refrigerator. It’s bubbly and thriving, just like a sourdough starter. I’ve made two breads thus far, experimenting with resting times and baking times. Because the dough is so wet, relatively to other doughs, this dough holds up well in the refrigerator without drying out.

So let’s find out what happened:

The first bread was a little dense. The crust was gorgeous, crackly and crispy, but the inside was slightly underbaked and doughy. The bread rose much less than others I had made in the past. Perhaps the lack of kneading allows for shorter gluten strands to form?

The second bread was much better. Instead of letting it rise only 40 minutes, I let it rise closer to an hour or so. It rose more and was significantly less dense than the first bread. Plus, I used a thermometer to check the final temperature of the bread. This isn’t mentioned in the book, but it’s a technique I learned in “Crust and Crumb.” If the bread is still measuring under 180 degrees F, it’s underbaked. With a sourdough, you ideally want the temperature to reach up to 205 degrees inside. Without the thermometer, the second bread would have been raw inside. The crust looked crisp and crackly, but the dense inside (I’ve just found these are not super fluffy breads) would have still been doughy.

So it has been an interesting experiment so far, but I’m not quite convinced that these breads match up completely to breads that take many loving hours to make. They are certainly convenient, and I will continue to make breads using the book’s method for days when we’re out of bread and I want something quick and easy, but there’s nothing like a real sourdough made using a starter.

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2009 in Breads

 

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English Marmalade Chocolate Cake

When I was in Santa Barbara a few weeks ago, I made this lovely chocolate cake filled with orange marmalade as a special treat. It’s not quite as dense as a Sacher torte, but rather has a nice, fluffy crumb and a deep chocolate flavor. Super easy to make.

Adapted from Enlightened Chocolate by Camilla V. Saulsbury

English Marmalade Chocolate Cake

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

pinch salt

1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk

8 oz of canned pumpkin, butternut squash or prune puree

3 Tbsp water

1 Tbsp vanilla extract

1 Tbsp grated orange rind

2 eggs

1 oz finely chopped unsweetened baking chocolate

1/2 cup jarred orange marmalade

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1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly coat a 9-inch cake pan with cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl, combine flours, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

3. In a medium bowl whisk together buttermilk, canned pumpkin, water, vanilla, orange zest, and eggs until well-blended. Using an electric mixer set on low, mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

4. Place the unsweetened chocolate in a small cup and microwave 45 seconds. Stir until melted and smooth and add to the batter. Beat the batter until blended and smooth.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

6. When cool, invert the cake onto a cake platter or plate and slice in half horizontally. Spread orange marmalade on bottom layer. Replace top. Feel free to frost with your favorite chocolate frosting!

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2009 in Chocolate, Cupcakes and Cakes

 

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Crust and Crumb – Oh the stuff you’ll bake

Our fridge and freezer look like a mad scientist’s laboratory — or perhaps just a mad baker. I’ve got poolish, one type of starter, in the freezer in little tupperware containers in the freezer, and biga, a thicker starter in a plastic bag. There are two jars with what looks like white and grey slime in the fridge both spewing a little carbon dioxide every now and then. Meet barm and rye barm. And there’s frozen pizza dough somewhere stashed in our freezer.

Yes, I am in full baking mode. I’ve got two multi-grain, whole-wheat loaves in the oven right now after nearly a day of making bread. I’m working through Peter Reinhart’s Crust and Crumb — a wonderful book, although not one for those afraid of detailed recipes. Each recipe typically calls for a starter, which must be made hours, days or even weeks ahead. Patience is rewarded, however, in the wonderful, rich flavors in the bread. The lesson here is that life — and bread — is worth slowing down for. Or at least plan things very well.

I love baking because unlike making cakes, where everything must be very precise (my mother always fears when I enter her kitchen and proclaim that I’m going to bake a cake — I’m well-known for my experimentation), baking bread is a flexible art. Once you know how to acheive a certain texture when kneading the dough and you learn when to proof and how much time the bread needs to bake (use a handy-dandy thermometer to guage the temperature inside the dough), you can experiment to your heart’s delight.

Le pain du jour was, as I mentioned before, a multi-grain, whole-wheat loaf. The recipe called for buttermilk; I didn’t have any, so I used yogurt. It also called for a multi-grain mix consisting of oats, polenta/cornmeal and wheat bran. I looked in the pantry: no cornmeal, no wheat bran. Into the bread went cooked wheat berries, cooked oatmeal leftover from breakfast, and cracked, cooked bulgur I had prepared for another recipe. Because these grains are cooked and they’ve already incorporated some water, the percentage of water must be adjusted in the bread in order to get the proper dough.

The breads are gorgeous and the apartment smells divine. If you’re an intrepid baker, Crust and Crumb is definitely for you. Other essential tools I recommend are a good thermometer, a pastry cutter, very good flour (King Arthur is my favorite) and a KitchenAid Stand Mixer. The last ingredient is pricey, but it makes bread making soo much easier.

Happy baking!

Yeasted Multigrain Bread

from Crust and Crumb by Peter Reinhart

1. A day before, prepare the biga by combining 3 1/2 cups (16 oz) unbleached bread flour, 1 teaspoon instant yeast and 1 1/2 cups of cool water in a large bowl. Transfer to a work surface and knead for five minutes or until dough is smooth and tacky. Place dough in a bowl sprayed with cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap and allow the biga to rise at least 1.5 times. Refrigerate overnight.

2. On the bread-baking day, take the biga out of the fridge for at least an hour to take the chill off. Measure 2 cups of the biga and add 1 3/4 cups (8 oz) whole wheat flour, 3/4 cups unbleached bread flour, 1/3 cup cornmeal, 1/3 cup oats, 1/3 cup wheat bran, 2 Tbsp cooked brown rice, 2 Tbsp brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 1/2 tsp instant yeast, 1/2 buttermilk, 2 Tbsp honey, 10 Tbsp cool water. You can freeze the leftover biga to use in another recipe.

3. Combine all of the ingredients and knead on a floured counter (or in your KitchenAid!) for about 10-12 minutes or until the dough becomes smooth and tacky. You can tell when the bread is ready by stretching out the dough until a small hole appears in the middle of the stretched portion; if the dough snaps before this windowpane of dough forms, you must continue kneading.

4. Put the dough in a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow it to rise 90 minutes at room temperature.

5. Grease a loaf pan. Shape the dough into a ball by pulling on the ends and putting them together at the bottom until the dough is rounded.

6. Mist the loaf with cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise 60-90 minutes.

7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

8. Place the loaf in the center rack and bake for 20 minutes. Turn the loaf from front to back to ensure even browning and bake for another 20 minutes or so. Use your thermometer to check the temperature in the middle, it should read 185 when done.

9. Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool.

Enjoy! You’ve worked hard for this bread!!

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2008 in Breads

 

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Cookies and Brownies and Bread! Oh My!

While surfin’ through the interwebs today, I found a blog written by the masters of baking over at King Arthur Flour, the Baker’s Banter. Filled with gorgeous, saliva-enducing photos and step-by-step instructions on how to make every baked good imaginable (check out this fab, fab, fab entry on how to make biscotti), these bakers have it down.

For the bake-aholic, King Arthur Flour produces a delightful catalog filled with everything a baker could crave. Along with selling gadgets and techie goodies, they sell some of the best flours for the devoted baker — plus they sell hard-to-find flours that are key for making artisan breads (like dark and light rye, spelt, amaranth, nut flours…).

I recently bought the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book and have made several really great recipes, including a bread packed full of cranberries and nuts. I highly recommend this cookbook for someone who is looking to switch over to healthier baking but is wary of “light” and “healthy” recipes.

I know, I can’t stop raving. I just love this company.

 
 

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Science Class in the Kitchen

If you remember your elementary school volcano experiment correctly, when you mix baking soda and an acid like vinegar, you get a bubbly eruption. When you add baking soda — also known as sodium bicarbonate — to a recipe with an acid (yogurt, buttermilk, lemon juice, cream of tartar), the same chemical reaction occurs and you get carbon dioxide bubbles. Those bubbles help your cake rise and become fluffy.

Note — many recipes that use this leavening method call for buttermilk. If you’re out of buttermilk (or abstain from dairy), by the way, you can make an equally good alternative by squeezing lemon juice into soymilk to create a vegan substitute.

Baking powder, on the other hand, is baking soda with an acid (like cream of tartar) already mixed in. Unlike baking soda, which has a bitter taste, baking powder has a neutral taste so it’s used in recipes where there is no acidic ingredient (or at least not enough of it).

Another good tip: If you’re out of baking powder, you can make your own by mixing two parts cream of tartar to one part baking soda.

As for “cream of tartar,” interestingly enough, it’s a byproduct of making wine! Cream of tartar — also known as potassium bitartrate — is an acidic salt made during the fermentation of grape juice in wine casks. It’s used to stabilize egg whites (which is why you’ll see it added to meringues) and as the acid in recipes using baking powder.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2008 in Pantry

 

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