Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mon pain a moi

The bread baking has been continuing here. I've been really excited about the pain au levain, which I've played with a little bit to make it my own. It's a very dense loaf, maybe because my starter is not quite mature enough, but it has a crispy, hard, caramelized crust that I love and a chewy interior.

Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini has a great recipe that I have mostly followed, but changed a few things.
I have just slightly adapted this method.

Rustic Pain au Levain

The night before you want to bake:
Feed your starter, scoop out 1/2 cup starter and put in a clean glass bowl, stir in 1/2 cup plain flour and 1/4 cup filtered water. Remember to stir with a wooden spoon. Cover and let sit overnight.
If you don't have a starter, have a look at Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible. There are fairly clear instructions on starting your own from scratch.

The next morning:
In a stand mixer with the paddle or dough hook, mix together:
600g flour (I use 300g whole wheat, 100g rye, 100g spelt and 100g white, all organic)
400g pure water
200g starter
1 Tbsp gluten flour

Mix until a rough dough is formed. This dough will be very sticky. Cover the bowl and let sit for about 30 minutes.

Add 2 tsp sea salt and allow the mixer to mix the salt in. Then transfer the dough to a floured countertop and knead by hand until the dough is less sticky. This might take about 10 minutes. Put dough into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set in a warm, draft free area and allow to rise. After about an hour, fold the dough over, cover it up and allow it to continue it's slow rise. The bread should just about double in size after about 8 hours.

Oil and flour a cast iron or glass pot with a lid that is safe for the oven. Place the dough in the pot, make a few slits in the top and sprinkle with flour. Put the lid on and place the pot in the oven. Turn the oven on to 450F and set the timer for 1 hour. At that point, take the bread out and check it. Mine is usually not baked yet, so I uncover it and place it back in the oven for at least 15 and up to 25 minutes. If you stick a knife in the middle of the loaf it should come out pretty clean. This extra, uncovered time in the oven will allow for deeper caramelization of the crust. When the bread is baked, take out of the oven and carefully (don't burn yourself!) remove from the pot onto a wire rack. You really should wait for this bread to be cool before you cut into it, otherwise the middle can be gummy.

Enjoy and revel in the fact that you made a loaf of bread that is so rustic and beautiful! It is amazing what flour, water and salt can make when we treat them right.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Brioche and Pain au Levain

Today was a successful day on the bread front. In between clients, I kneaded and turned and gently set my doughs in bowls to rise. I peeked in on them, deflated them when they needed and finally tonight baked them, separately, each waiting their turn, in a hot oven until they were both golden and puffed. They are possibly the two most different types of bread, so let me start with the brioche, which I promised I would tell you about today.

I used Rose Levy Beranbaum's Basic Brioche recipe. It required lots of steps and seemed a bit daunting, like many of her recipes I must admit. But when I broke it down and actually looked at the steps, I realized it wasn't that difficult.

The soft, golden yellow dough that I had set in the fridge last night puffed until the plastic wrap around it was really tight. When I looked at it this morning it reminded me of a chubby woman squeezed into a mini skirt. All I had to do today was fold it and leave it to rise. I decided to make it in a big loaf pan with white sugar crystals on top, my favourite topping for brioche. Then it baked for about an hour and voila! A real brioche made in my own kitchen. I tried to be patient, but patience is not a great quality of mine, so I sliced it carefully while still a bit warm and spread it with apricot jam from last summer. It was lovely, mildly sweet, golden from the free range eggs, rich from the butter and with a softness that I was surprised and delighted by. All in all, the brioche was a winner.

Now for my pain au levain. I was skeptical about the life of my starter. I again used Rose's recipe for starter and I realized after about a week or two that I had been stirring it with a metal spoon. Apparently that is a big no no, but in all my reading about starters, I couldn't figure out why. Some people claim that metal is warm and will kill the bacteria, others say that metal contaminates starter. I wasn't sure. So I kept dumping out a little each day and feeding it with flour and pure water. It was smelling like a starter, acidic, maybe even a little cheesy. It was bubbling a little bit, like a good starter should. It was a nice even colour, with no streaks. I decided to name it (as both Rose and Clotilde did) and came up with Yuki. So I set out to try Clotilde's recipe for Pain au Levain using my very own Yuki. Basically I used 600g flour (red fife, whole wheat and white), 400 g water, 200 g yuki, 1 tbsp wheat gluten and 2 tsp sea salt. This got mixed, rested, kneaded and rose all day. The baked in my beloved red cocotte. It didn't give away how lovely it was going to taste with much of a smell wafting from the oven the way the golden brioche did. I tried to wait patiently by distracting myself with the end of a captivating book, but I was dying to see what was going on inside the lidded cocotte. Finally an hour passed and I opened it up, only to find it a little bit pale and not as high as I hoped. So I took the lid off and popped it back in to get a bit more colour and hoped for the best. I still wasn't sure that the starter had done it's job very well. So with a bit more patience I waited for the miche to cool and then, finally, cut into it. Well, let me tell you, I needn't have worried. If I dare say this, it was almost as delicious as my favourite bread, Pain Poilane! It had a lovely, chewy, compact interior, a hard, carmelized crust and that nice, mildly acidic tang that a starter lends to bread. I can't believe that I was able to create such a nice bread in my own kitchen!

Sunday, January 24, 2010


I decided to try my hand at a real brioche. Plain and simple. A rich dough full of butter and eggs, baked until golden and eaten just a little bit warm from the oven. It started last night when I got the sponge together and put in the fridge. this morning all I had to do was mix the dry ingredients together and cover the sponge and let it sit for a few hours. Then I mixed them together in my mixer and added the cold eggs then the soft butter bit by bit. That gave me the most beautifully sticky and soft golden coloured dough, which spent a couple of hours rising and is now resting in the fridge. It got deflated once, went back into the fridge and will get folded tonight before spending a chilly night in the fridge. Tomorrow it will rise once more before being baked and then enjoyed with some good butter and apricot jam. I can hardly wait!

I will post a photo tomorrow to let you know how it turns out....

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Grapefruit Avocado and Feta Salad

The weather is tricking us into thinking spring is on the way, which I guess it is, but truthfully not for another 10 weeks. Snow is melting off rooftops and the streets are mucky and brown. I felt like having something bursting with flavour for lunch today. Something light, fruity and healthy. I had a few ripe avocados, tons of citrus fruit in the fridge and some feta cheese, so there was my lunch. It was just what I wanted, the silkiness of the avocado and the burst of pink grapefruit with some salty feta and a drizzle of sharp lime juice and basil infused oil. Perfection! I think some good black Kalamata olives tossed into the mix and a few fresh basil leaves might have taken this to the next level, but I thought of the olives after the fact and I had no fresh basil. I ate it with my homemade olive bread from last night's dinner (which is possibly better the second day) and sauteed tofu and spinach. I hesitate to give you a recipe for this, as quantities should vary according to your taste, but here's what I put in mine.

Grapefruit Avocado and Feta Salad

1 pink grapefruit
1 avocado
feta cheese (as much or as little as you like)
juice of half a lime
basil infused olive oil for drizzling
Maldon sea salt

Segment the grapefruit and remove the membrane and pith. Cut each segment into two or three pieces. Cut the avocado into small cubes. Cut the feta cheese into small cubes. Toss or arrange on a plate. Squeeze a fresh lime over top and drizzle with the oil. Sprinkle with Maldon sea salt. Eat!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Honey Cakes

Thursday night is girls night, and with two about to have babies, we may not have many Thursday night get togethers for a while. So while we still can, I want to make some pretty, delicious and healthy homemade treats to share.

Today as I thought about what to make for tonight, I decided I wanted to use some mini bundt pans that I got last Christmas from my Mom and that still had the labels on. I found a recipe for little bundt type cakes and completely changed it to suit my taste and what I had on hand. They turned out delicious! With a dark, almost crunchy exterior and a moist, honey scented crumb.

I am making an apple compote with a touch of cinnamon and honey to go along with them and, as always, we will have a pot of honeybush tea to share as we nibble.

Honey Cakes

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour 12 mini bundt pans, or use non-stick ones. Alternatively you can use a muffin pan.

1/3 cup canola oil
2 eggs
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup dark runny honey
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1 tsp vanilla

Whisk together in a large mixing bowl until smooth.

1/3 cup hazelnut flour
1/3 cup red fife flour (or whole wheat flour)
1/3 cup white flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
pinch vanilla bean powder (optional)

Whisk together to blend. Add to wet ingredients and stir with a spatula just until incorporated.
Pour into prepared tins and bake for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire rack and cool. Serve with home made apple compote or plain.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Pain Quotidien

For Christmas, JS always knows that cookbooks are my favourite gift! This year he got me two that I had on my list. One of them is Rose Levy Berenbaum's The Bread Bible. I decided that as one of my New Year's resolutions, I would start baking bread. Not the same old bread that never has a great crust and is just kind of bland, but real, crusty, artisanal breads with a more complex sourdough taste and a chewy crumb.

Bread baking seems like such a basic and old fashioned skill that few people today really have. The process of creating something so wholesome and belly filling with 4 ingredients, flour, salt, yeast and water, is pure alchemy. People today are so worried about eating too many carbs, but I feel strongly that bread is the pillar of any meal. We should all be eating bread, not the horrible, white, spongy loaves that sit on the shelf for weeks, but real, homemade loaves that fill the house with an unbelievable smell. So onwards with my new years resolution, and my mission to fill my house with the aroma of yeast and flour baking in my oven.

I started with the recipe for Hearth Bread. I was a little sceptical because she always uses instant yeast (I buy my yeast in the bakery of my supermarket in a large brick. It's the moist, pressed kind of yeast and it's what they use in France so I assumed it was the good stuff). This bread started with making a sponge, which I had never made before. It's basically a dough made with flour, water and a tiny smidgen of yeast and left to sit for the day. Then you mix the sponge into the dough when you're making the bread. I followed her recipe step by step (a feat for me, who likes to improvise and adjust) and the bread came out beautifully! It had a crisp crust and a moist, chewy crumb. The only step I ignored was at the end when Rose advises to leave the bread to cool on the rack before eating. I think we ate about 3/4 of the loaf before it was even warm!

Next I made a ciabatta bread, which started with a biga, similar to the sponge I made for the hearth bread. It also turned out lovely. It had a nice crust and a chewy interior with lots of little air pockets.

Yesterday I made her Flax loaf, which is a straight dough bread, no starter, sponge or biga required. It may have been the biggest success yet! It had a nice, wholesome flax flavour and a soft and chewy crumb. Best of all it was the fastest bread I've made so far in terms of rising time, which means I can think about it at 3 pm and still have fresh bread for dinner! We enjoyed some last night with cultured butter sprinkled with Maldon salt alongside sweet potato and vegetable soup. Yum!

I also tried her pizza dough which was a success. It doesn't require much kneading, which produces a softer crust and was very much enjoyed by the crowd at JS's birthday dinner on Sunday night.

My other project is the sourdough starter that I started from scratch. It has taken longer then indicated and required a lot of love and persistence, but it looks almost ready to bake with. I can't wait to see how my first loaf turns out! I have been advised to name my starter, maybe because it is a living organism that requires daily care (it eats flour and bottled water for dinner every night), but I've had a hard time coming up with one seeing as it doesn't really look like your typical pet. It's a jar full of bubbling, acidic smelling goo. Gooey, Bloop, Yuki? Any suggestions? I'm kind of liking the sound of Yuki....

As you can see, so far so good on the bread baking front. I have been successful with each loaf, although there is always room for improvement. I would like to get a pizza stone to bake the bread directly on, as Rose recommends in many of her recipes. I also want to try my hand at baguettes, but maybe after I feel a bit more confident as I think they are one of the more difficult breads to master. In the meantime I will tend to Yuki, maybe try a loaf using some of her this weekend and enjoy the delicious smells wafting about my house during the cold, dark days of this new year.