Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Bread Bible: Classic Challah, or A Tale of Four Challahs

I've been baking challah every week for a number of years, since the frozen-dough challahs that my sister-in-law was baking every Friday for Shabbat (she and the kids are Jewish, I'm not) declined in quality and I started experimenting with recipes. One of the first I tried was Rose's Traditional Challah from The Bread Bible, back in 2007. My blog about it (on LiveJournal at the time) notes that I belatedly found the errata on Rose's blog, and also that this is a very large challah using 5 eggs. Perhaps because of the size, perhaps because we didn't find the results particularly great, I tried other recipes and eventually evolved my own Whole-Wheat Challah with Dried Cherries primarily from the base of this Grandma Rosie's Fabulous Challah recipe that I found by a general Internet search. Note that's Rosie, not Rose.... :)

Classic ChallahAlong came the assignment of Traditional Challah for the Bread Bible Bake-along, which I'm participating in as an ad-hoc member when time allows. The posting was due December 2 (amended to the 4th), and I jumped on things and baked it November 21 ...before I saw Rose's suggestion on our internal Facebook page suggesting we do the improved version on her blog instead. Due to the number of folks currently eating that weekly challah (the nieces are in college, my brother generally works late and isn't around for dinner...and frequently avoids carbs, so it's 3 of us: me, the nephew, and sister-in-law), a 1-egg challah is the preferred size, so I did the math and cut down the Traditional Challah to a 1-egg version. Classic ChallahI did a 6-strand braid per my usual habits, and the loaf looked very pretty. Classic Challah
Alas, just as in 2007, it was not a big hit--just didn't have any special character either judged on its own or compared to the whole-wheat and dried cherry version. This recipe uses an overnight or half-day starter for a flavor boost, but we still found it rather meh.

Fig, olive oil, and sea salt challahChallah over Thanksgiving weekend, with the nieces home, was Smitten Kitchen's Fig, Olive Oil, and Sea Salt Challah, because we didn't manage anything special for Rosh Hashanah. (I was at Walt Disney World, and didn't leave a frozen challah for the occasion.) Because older niece had had one of these delivered to her at college a couple of years ago, when younger niece jokingly suggested I could bake another one for her to take back to college, I did it. Therefore it's a tradition: nephew has been informed that he's entitled to one Fig, Olive Oil, and Sea Salt Challah during his college years. (He's a high school junior.)

Rose's Favorite ChallahFinally we're at the week when the bake-along challah post is due, and I decided to give Rose's improved recipe a chance. This version uses a bigs, aged for 3 days in the fridge, for extra flavor and to make it keep better. Well, a biga or a chunk of firm sourdough starter, which I don't keep. Biga it was, so I made the biga on Sunday, and refrigerated it until Thursday night. I made the dough using butter instead of oil for a little more taste enhancement, let it rise, then split it in half and kneaded in plumped dried cherries. Half went into the fridge for the family Friday challah, and the other half had its second rise, got its 6-strand braid, then was baked for sister-in-law's Tickling Tech train-the-teachers session Friday morning. The braiding was a bit difficult--the dried cherries are a little large in the half recipe and with 6 ropes and want to pop out of the dough, but if you cut the cherries in half the cherry juices will stain the dough. I'm blaming the rather erratic look of the baked loaf on the cherries.

I baked the half-sized challah 15 minutes then turned it around, then another 20 min or so covered with foil for the last 10 to keep it from browning excessively. It smelled heavenly, one plumped cherry had artistically trickled some juice down the side....and I delivered it warm next door so s-i-l could take it to school the next day, where at least one teacher gave it thumbs up by asking for seconds. (No other comments were relayed.) My house was left with this heavenly smell of fresh-baked challah at 10:30 at night. Friday night I was finally able to taste it after baking the second half, and it's indeed a better tasting version than the Bread Bible recipe. The bread was moister, and a bit of tang from the bigs comes through. I'll keep baking my whole-wheat version weekly, but if I need a white challah this is a recipe I would turn to.

Rose's Favorite Challah Rose's Favorite Challah Rose's Favorite Challah Rose's Favorite Challah Rose's Favorite Challah Rose's Favorite Challah Rose's Favorite Challah

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

BB: Fudgy-Pudgy Brownie Tart

BB: Fudgy Pudgy Brownie TartI managed to bake along with Rose's Alpha Bakers this week as they tackled the Fudgy-Pudgy Brownie Tart. This is a shallow (1" deep) tart using a chocolate cookie crust and filled with a brownie. The recipe calls for good-quality chocolate in addition to good cocoa powder and some white chocolate. I had 'good' white chocolate and cocoa, but my stash of unsweetened baking chocolate was depleted, and I had to fall back on supermarket Bakers unsweetened chocolate. BB: Fudgy Pudgy Brownie Tart The chocolate cookie crust was pretty easy to work with, though that perfect temperature for it to be pliable for the rolling and shaping tin a tart shell eluded me. I used the full procedure used throughout the book of cutting a 12" circle, placing the crust over a smaller cake pan and trying to smooth it into a bowl shape--but here the crust cracked a good bit, requiring patching lest it fall apart before I could invert it. Then the tart pan goes on the assembly, and it is inverted to get that bowl-ish shape into the pan for the finishing work of pushing it into the sides, patching other cracks then folding, trimming, and decorating the edge. And yay! the tart crust doesn't need to be blind-baked before the brownie batter is added. I baked my tart for the maximum time as it didn't get to the stated temperature until then. Repeated checking also accounts for that largish hole in the center of my crust, where I angled in my instant-read thermometer multiple times. I think perhaps I would have done better to pull it out a bit earlier and kept the tart more towards the fudge side than it ended up. The results went next door to sister-in-law so she could take it to school for Tickling Tech, her regular Friday morning teach-the-teachers-technology session...but she'd forgotten to tell me that it was a teacher work day, and thus no regular Tickling Tech. Instead she gave a short talk to the full assembly of teachers (on copyright law), then gave a promo for TT using the brownie tart as an example treat. She then sliced it thin and put it in the library for teachers to come by for as they wanted around lunchtime. She said people seemed to like it, with a few comments on the crust as a different element. Didn't sound like there were any exceptional reviews, though. That's my personal feeling too--the crust is an interesting difference, but my piece, eaten cold from the fridge, didn't seem unusually fudgy. It was nicely chocolatey, but perhaps because of the thin layer of real brownie, I would opt for a classic brownie in the fudge, not cake, category. Maybe a higher-quality baking chocolate would have helped. I do have a bit of chocolate crust left over to experiment with. Some sort of tartlet, definitely...
BB: Fudgy Pudgy Brownie Tart BB: Fudgy Pudgy Brownie Tart BB: Fudgy Pudgy Brownie Tart BB: Fudgy Pudgy Brownie Tart

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Bread Bible: Basic Hearth Bread

Basic Hearth BreadAnother bread for the group baking through Beranbaum's The Bread Bible. This post is more timely--I had the last slices of the loaf for breakfast this morning.

The Basic Hearth Bread can be done either as a round loaf baked on a stone, or in a loaf pan. I went with the loaf pan for the versatility of the shape. The bread is fundamentally a rustic white bread, with 1/4 cup of whole-wheat flour in the starter. That bit of whole-wheat flour gives a good bit of character for the small amount used. I wish I had scheduled in enough time for an overnight ferment for the sponge, but I had to work it straight through the initial ferment, mixing, 2 rises, shaping the loaf, another rise, then baking.

Some comments and notes:

--I got suckered in by the paragraph heading for step 2 (not the first time these have caught me) and mixed in the salt with my flour and yeast. (It says "Combine the ingredients for the flour mixture and add to the sponge." Just above that is the list of ingredients labelled "Flour Mixture", which is flour, yeast, and salt. Down in step 3 you discover that the salt should be added after the first ferment and the mixing of the dough. ) As I stirred the yeast in first to prevent salt-yeast contact, I don't think I inhibited the rise by much, if at all.

--My dough was a bit dry, cleaning the bowl with no sticking early on, so I sprayed it with water frequently as the mixer kneaded away. I still wouldn't have called the results sticky, but did git a bit of 'cling' to my fingers. That's unusual--I'm in humid Georgia, it was a rainy weekend, and I measured the water by weight and got something over the volume measure of 1-1/3 c. Not really a problem as I'm comfortable adjusting a basic bread dough to the level of moisture called for, but it's not my usual results with Rose's recipes.

--The last note is to remind myself to not use that larger bread pan--it measures 9-1/4 x 4-1/4" on the bottom but slants a bit, and basically most 'regular' bread recipes are too small for it. I need to work out how much flour makes the right-sized loaf for that pan...this recipe gave a squatter loaf that I would have liked.

Basic Hearth Bread Basic Hearth Bread Basic Hearth Bread Basic Hearth Bread Basic Hearth Bread Basic Hearth Bread

The Bread Bible: Beer Bread

Beer BreadI baked this in early August, and blogging it at the end of September. Memory is a little vague on the details of the baking and the eating, I'm afraid. The pictures remind me that I used the bottle of Guinness that had been tucked away in the back of the fridge for a while, and that it rose enthusiastically. I used the mixer method in my KitchenAid (almost always my choice for bread these days), and seem to recall that it was a pretty well-behaved dough in the mixing and shaping. It's a good-tasting bread, too--a bit extra yeasty from the beer, I think, and a nice amount of 'chew'.

Beer Bread Beer Bread Beer Bread Beer Bread Beer Bread

Monday, August 31, 2015

BB: Flaky Cream Cheese Scones

Flaky Cream Cheese SconesThe name is deceptive...or incomplete. Yes, these are flaky scones made with cream cheese, but they are also "lemon blueberry scones", having a good tablespoon of lemon zest and lots of dried blueberries, and that's how I think of them. I guess "flaky cream-cheese lemon-blueberry scones" would be a bit long. Flaky Cream Cheese SconesI've been using the technique of grating frozen butter as the first step in recipes that cut in butter with the goal of a flaky pastry--pie crusts (Peach Galette writeup will get done sometime) and the like, and these scones. The cream cheese got cut in with a pastry blender, then I grated in the frozen butter and popped the entire bowl into the freezer for a few minutes to let the butter chill again. (Warm hands!) Then I tossed the mixture together and pressed the butter shreds into flaky pieces. In went whipped cream and a bit of honey, and the mixture was done. Instead of wedges cut from a circle, I made a rectangle of the dough and cut square-shaped scones from that. (I do the same with biscuits most of the time--saves on re-rolling scraps from a biscuit cutter.) The entire batch went into the freezer, one wrapped separately for me, and the rest for the folks next door. I baked mine about a week later for a weekend breakfast, and thought it was wonderful. My dried blueberries had been pretty plump to start, and had nicely re-hydrated to give a nice flavor and texture to the scone. My sister-in-law baked the rest the week she had all the kids home, before younger niece left for college, and took the rest to her school for a Friday morning Tickling Tech session. She cut the ones destined for school in half when they came out of the oven, and said it worked very well. (I'd have cut the frozen ones before baking, but then I have a very large chef's knife to handle that sort of task.) I don't recall specifics, but I think the audience at Tickling Tech was appreciative. I'm filing away this recipe as one to make ahead and freeze so sister-in-law can have them available for weeks when neither of us can bake.
Flaky Cream Cheese Scones Flaky Cream Cheese Scones Flaky Cream Cheese Scones Flaky Cream Cheese Scones Flaky Cream Cheese Scones

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Bread Bible: Prosciutto Ring

Prosciutto RingI have dropped out of the official Alpha Bakers group due to a lack of time and energy for the more complex recipes, but will be baking along with them on some weeks. I do intend to keep up with the offshoot baking through The Bread Bible, though I may jump ahead of their once-a-month schedule sometimes if the bread baking urge is upon me. I'm a couple of days late getting my bread post up, but I'm glad I didn't skip this one, as it was easy and tastes wonderful. The basic concept is a rustic white bread with prosciutto and cracked black pepper mixed into the dough, and is Rose's recreation of a bread from a NYC bakery called "lard bread". My copy of the Bread Bible is an earlier printing, and though the anecdote about lard bread is in the headnote, the recipe contained no lard. This got even more confusing as the internal Facebook for the bread bakers discovered that some people's recipes had lard, and more meat, and different kinds of meats. The confusion finally settled after finding a blog post from Rose that explained she had revised the recipe for the 4th edition based on more information about what that NYC bakery bread really contained. Her revised recipe adds 2 tablespoons of lard to the bread as a fat, then uses 6 ounces of mixed prosciutto, spicy soppressata, and pepperoni. As I'm a carnivore, 6 ounces of mixed cured meats sounded better than 3 of prosciutto alone, so I went with the revision. My limited grocery run failed to find spicy soppressata, so I decided that a mix of prosciutto and Spanish-style chorizo would maintain the moniker of "prosciutto ring" and still have the spicy taste of a pepperoni/soppressata blend. The recipe wants the prosciutto sliced not too thinly, but the line at the deli counter was long so I bought the regular packaged stuff. I considered buying a package of lard, but I use it rarely (for pie crusts, and not always) so decided bacon grease would be an acceptable form of pork fat here--no issues with the flavor difference, and any texture difference could be compensated for in the kneading. I went with the food processor version as the speediest, and it's indeed very easy. The dry ingredients all go in with only an intermediate mix to keep the salt and yeast from direct contact, then the fat and cold water. Let it come together then run the machine for 45 seconds to knead. Dump it out onto a floured surface and knead in all the chopped up meats, let it rest a bit, then form into a ring. Prosciutto RingLet rise for an hour, then bake in a very hot oven on a stone and with steam. This was the first time I can recall using a silicon bread mat directly on a stone, but it worked fine, as did the transfer from the mat to direct baking on the stone half-way through. The bottom got a bit too brown, though, so I think I'll bake on the mat throughout next time. Prosciutto RingIt being suppertime when the bread came out, it didn't get a proper cool-down before I tore into it for sharing with sister-in-law and for my own dinner. The taste was great, and I think the bit of gummy texture was a factor of warm-from-the-oven bread, not under-baking. I'll be repeating this one--it will be good with a salad for a lighter meal, and will be very good with soups, too. I may try the mixer version next time to see if that makes incorporating the meat easier, but it really wasn't too difficult to do by hand with the food processor version.
Prosciutto Ring Prosciutto Ring Prosciutto Ring Prosciutto Ring Prosciutto Ring

Monday, June 22, 2015

BB: Double Damage Oblivion

Double Damage OblivionA short writeup this week, though the cake deserves more. The Double Damage Oblivion is a flourless chocolate cake (the Chocolate Oblivion) sandwiched in between layers of a regular chocolate cake (the Deep Chocolate Passion). The recipe calls for gluing these together with ganache, but I had leftover raspberry sauce from the Red Velvet Cake, which made a fine substitute for the ganache with only the effort of getting a container out of the fridge. I made a half-sized cake, using my 6" springform and a 6" cake pan. This was a bit trickier than usual, as the two individual cake recipes are fairly small. Cutting them in half, I was glad of my scale to weigh fairly precisely in grams and had to use a hand-held mixer because the volumes were too small for the big stand mixer to reach. I thought this was a good cake, though if I hadn't used the raspberry as a contrast flavor it might have been a bit one-note for me. My chocoholic sister-in-law, however, has informed me I must keep this recipe. For once it wasn't too sweet for her (probably because I used darker chocolate than called for at about 72% cacao instead of 60%, plus a dusting of unsweetened cocoa powder), and she also approved of the contrasting raspberry sauce.
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