Thursday, December 07, 2006

The alchemy of grain and yeast.

What is beer, but liquid bread? They're both built on grain, yeast, and water. I love a good hoppy hit, so beer is a natural partner for my next loaf:

I used the recipe from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. She calls for a dark beer such as Bass or Beck's but what I had on hand was stout. And what a stout it is! Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout is so rich and creamy you are practically chewing on that body. It's an award-winning brew, named one of the world's 50 best beers by Stewart Kallen, and justly so.

As a nice little bonus, the recipe calls for 9oz of beer. The bottle holds 12 oz, which leaves a nifty little 3oz snack for the baker.

The dough is a gorgeous cafe-au-lait color, and is soft and supple.

I used Beranbaum's suggested "lantern" pattern of five slashes, then popped it in the oven for about half an hour. I could barely wait. The sweet malty aroma was the perfect antidote for the hour I spent walking the dogs in fog and snow. But I know NEVER to slice into a warm loaf, tempting as it may be. All you get for the haste is a gummy mouthful of cotton. So be patient, and be properly rewarded with the rich earthy crumb of this beautiful brown loaf:

My favorite accompaniment to a freshly-baked loaf is unsalted butter and thick-cut orange marmalade (preferred: World Market's house brand, made in Belgium. Not too sweet, and generously textured with peel.) The slightly bitter edge and the citrus were the perfect foil for the malty sweet bread. The kids loved it in their turkey sandwiches.

Definitely something to make again!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

My daily Italian bread

My favorite all-purpose daily loaf is a semi-rustic Italian, from "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart. It begins at least a day before baking with a biga starter, which I then refrigerate overnight at the minimum, and usually for 3 days. Typically, I make a double batch.

And on the third day the biga is mixed in with a fresh batch of dough. The final product is just bread flour, water, salt, yeast and a splash of extra-virgin olive oil.

Here it's set to rise in my new Cambro container:

And after two hours (if only my bank account would grow at the same rate!):

Next, dump the whole lot on the counter:

Divide the dough into four equal pieces by weight, then shape them. I like to make two shapes - the torpedo or batard, and the round or boule:

After an hour, the shaped loaves have expanded. Notice how the torpedoes are almost touching:

After rising a little more, they get thrown into a 475 degree oven, directly on to the terra cotta tiles I use in lieu of a baking stone. (After breaking several pizza stones, I went with Julia Child's suggestion and bought some thick, unglazed terra cotta tiles from Home Depot, and get them cut to fit my oven. They work even better than the pizza stone!) The stones/tiles are absolutely key if you want crusty, rustic-looking loaves. These are the torpedoes, which I dusted with a little flour just before slashing and baking. During ovenspring, the loaves swelled even more and merged:

With the boules, the slash marks always seem to fill up during the ovenspring, leaving a smooth surface. I can't seem to get the slashes to stay, but at least you can see where the slashes were made:

The crust makes crackling and tiny popping sounds as the loaves cool, but it remains crisp. Still, it's never so hard that it shreds one's gums. The crumb has a mix of small and medium holes, and is incredibly flavorful for a white bread. It's great eaten plain, but with a drizzle of top-quality extra-virgin olive oil, or good Irish butter, it's a revelation.

And what do we love to do with the torpedoes? Split them in two, butter one half and spread the other half with a mix of extra-virgin olive oil, minced garlic, oregano, Italian parsley, salt and pepper. Put the pieces back together, wrap the whole loaf in foil, bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees, then unwrap and bake for another five minutes to crisp up the crust. Who knew garlic bread could be divine?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Light wheat bread

From "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart:

The romance of free-form loaves has occupied me for several months, but today I just felt like having a sandwich loaf. This is a very reliable bread - flavorful and earthy with whole wheat, but it's lightened by using roughly two-thirds regular white bread flour. So it's not terribly dense. Parents of young children, you know that sort of heavy artisan loaf can be tough to sell to 7-year olds! This one, though, my youngest can accept without confrontation. Made a double batch.

Good Tillamook unsalted butter and great thick-cut marmalade is at the ready, just waiting for those loaves to cool!

Gillian Coldsnow

Brie en croute

Just out of the oven, with brie bubbling through the top:

This is its genesis. I used the brioche recipe from my culinary bible, Shirley Corriher's "Cookwise," but chose a mini-brie instead of the 2-pound wheel prescribed. The recipe calls for a filling of apricots, walnuts and citrus zest soaked in amaretto. I've made it several times before, and it's excellent. But this time I wanted something savory, so used her suggested variation of prosciutto, fresh sage leaves and lemon zest:

Omigod. I'll DEFINITELY be using the big 2-pound wheel of Brie next time! It was an incredible blend of so many flavors - the butter in the brioche, the creamy brie, the salty prosciutto, the zing of lemon and the incomparable aroma of fresh sage (thank goodness my plant made it thus far into the season.)

Wish I had a picture of the sliced brie. So pretty - the layers of brown and yellow bread, white cheese, pink meat and green sage with yellow flecks of lemon zest. We were starting on the cranberry vodka cocktails - and reaching for the camera was not on my mind!

Gillian Coldsnow

Thanksgiving menu

Brie stuffed with prosciutto, fresh sage and lemon en croute
Apricot ginger sausage en croute
Croissant crackers
Red gypsy pepper jelly
Homemade cranberry vodka and tonic

English Wensleydale with cranberries
Cristalino Cava Brut (Spain)

Mussels in Italian salsa verde
Antinori Campogrande Orvieto Classico 2004 (Italy)

Mango-ginger Stilton (England)
Moseland Ars Vitis Riesling Spatlese 2005 (Germany)

Cream of wild mushroom soup
Italian bread
Etorki (French Basque sheep’s-milk cheese)
Yellowtail Shiraz (Australia)

Salad of butter lettuce, Comice pears, Salmon Valley blue cheese and glazed walnuts
Hogue Late Harvest White Riesling 2004 (Columbia Valley)

Crispy duck in tangerine sauce
Laura Hartner’s Cherry wine

Roast turkey
Sausage stuffing
Oyster stuffing
Garlic-mashed Yukon Gold potatoes
Jewel Yams with bourbon
Sweet potatoes with cilantro and lime
Brussels sprouts in horseradish cream
Lemon green beans
Mama Stamberg’s cranberry relish
Orange-star anise cranberry sauce
Columbia Crest Cabernet sauvignon 2002 (Columbia Valley)

Zardetto Prosecco Brut Conegliano (Italy)

Pumpkin pie
Chocolate-Cranberry torte
French roast coffee

Just for the record, we started eating at 2 in the afternoon, and finished at about 11. If you consider the nine-hour spread, it's not so bad!