The inadequacy of your bread

Eater.com article: How Tech Bros Fell in Love With Baking Bread

It appears there are some people out there buying the 52-pound (that’s weight), US$600 Modernist Bread volumes and actually using them (more on the books in the comments here). I suppose some home bakers might feel inadequate reading the details in the linked article on expensively-overproduced hobbyist bread for the braggart, but I didn’t. Mostly, the words “overthinking”, “overkill”, and “overcompensating” came to mind, and, as I finished the article, “Criminey.”

Mind-boggling though those details are, it was still sort of interesting to read.

A sample caption from breadstagram: “Loaf from yesterday’s cut video. 80% bread flour, 20% whole wheat, 80% hydration, 2% salt, Leaven was 100% hydration, whole wheat, young (4 hours), and comprised of 10% of total *dough* weight (60g for a 600g loaf). Hand mixed via Rubaud Method for 10 minutes. Bulk for 3.5 hours, low 80s F, with coil folds at 60 minutes and 120 minutes (around 40% rise in volume).”

Yeah…no. The stress these people put on themselves doesn’t sound enjoyable. I’m glad my bread-baking remains at a relaxed level. I’d stop doing it if it seemed that much like work.

Sourdough boule in my kitchen

 

Timely bread in more ways than one

Click for a larger version

After seeing this ThermoWorks article this morning, I decided it was high time I made soda bread for the first time – the result above. This late date is slightly embarrassing since I’m of Irish extraction (100%, I think) and this is maybe the twenty-fifth or thirtieth kind of bread I’ve made.

Several years ago, I bought the pictured 3.5 quart KitchenAid Dutch oven (alas, long-discontinued) to get a better shape on the sourdough boules I bake, and figured its smaller size would probably help with this fairly wet dough as well, and it did indeed. It probably sped the baking a bit, too. When I took the lid off at 40 minutes, the central temperature was 203°F/95°C, just a couple degrees and minutes from being done.

It’s a fast and tasty bread. I’ll be making it more often than never from now on.

“What you see before you is the result of a lifetime of chocolate”

Katharine Hepburn’s brownies; click for 1920×1080

The full quotation is from Katharine Hepburn when she was 70:

“I don’t have to watch my figure as I never had much of one to watch. What you see before you is the result of a lifetime of chocolate.”

These are my fortified version of her one-pot, one-pan brownie recipe. Hepburn’s brownies were well-known by her friends and her recipe accompanied an interview in Ladies’ Home Journal in 1975. In 1987, it was included in this book that’s in my collection:

My variation on her recipe has toasted pecans swapped in for the walnuts and is enriched with espresso powder and extra chocolate and vanilla. These are quick to make and disappear even faster in a murmur of Mmmms, so you may want to consider a double batch. They’re ideal when you’re perhaps a little pressed for time but want a great dessert – whip these up in under an hour, including the time to preheat the oven and toast the pecans, and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

For that still-warm-from-the-oven effect, I recommend microwaving one brownie for 9 seconds. And a napkin. Maybe a Wet-Nap.

Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies – My Variation

  • 2½ oz/70g unsweetened chocolate – I use Ghirardelli (in New England, Market Basket has the best prices on Ghirardelli by far)
  • 1 stick/4 oz/115g unsalted butter, or salted butter if you have no unsalted
  • 1 cup/200g sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (usually found near instant coffee in the supermarket)
  • ¾ teaspoon table salt, or ½ teaspoon if you’re using salted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup/30g flour
  • 1 cup pecan halves toasted at 325F/160C for 9 minutes and broken, processed, or roughly chopped into large pieces
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips such as Ghirardelli 60% Cacao chips

Preheat oven to 325F/160C. Toast the pecans on a baking sheet for 9 minutes, then remove from the pan and allow to cool a bit. Break each half into four quarters or process/chop them into large pieces. Line an 8×8″/20x20cm pan with parchment paper – see the method below. You can instead butter the bottom and sides of the pan, but these are gooey brownies that really want to stick, even to a well-greased non-stick pan.

In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the stick of butter and the unsweetened chocolate. When melted, remove from heat – there’s no more cooktop heat from this point – and beat in the sugar. When the sugar is incorporated, beat in the eggs, then the espresso powder, salt, and vanilla. Fold in the flour, then stir in the toasted pecans and chocolate chips.

Pour into the parchment-lined pan and bake at 325F/160C for 40 minutes, rotating the pan 180 degrees at 20 minutes. Check them at 35 minutes – if you see the edges are darkening, get them out of the oven because they’re done. Cool for at least half an hour, then lift the brownies out using the sides of the parchment, peel the paper off, and cut into nine, twelve, or sixteen pieces (3×3, 4×3, or 4×4). A long, thin-bladed knife, cleaned and run under piping hot water between cuts, will help you produce squares instead of a pile of broken brownie pieces.

Lining a Pan with Parchment

  • Cut a piece of parchment paper the same shape but roughly 50% bigger than the pan. I start with these pre-cut half-sheet pan (12×16”) parchment sheets: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00KY5KLZK
  • Cut diagonally in from the corners of the parchment to the corners of the pan
  • Spray pan with cooking spray (or use a dot of butter at each corner) just to help the parchment stay put
  • Place the parchment in the pan, overlapping the diagonal flaps. You don’t need to spray the top of the parchment. So long as it’s silicone-treated, it will peel off just fine.

Notes on Pecans

Costco often sells 2-pound bags of pecans for US$14-15, which is probably close to what you’d pay for two pounds at a roadside pecan farm stand in the South. However, note that most nuts will go rancid after 6-12 months – walnuts and pecans the quickest by far – but they won’t go off if you freeze them and thaw only what you need for a recipe. Thawing takes just half an hour at room temperature. I use a fair amount of pecans, so I always have two or three bags in my freezer.

In her Connecticut kitchen

And the bran muffin answer is…Nancy Silverton

Feels like I’m in Anaheim – except that Mimi’s would have an orange slice and maybe some melon on there, too

My slow-cooked bacon method is here. Real dinerware like the 13″ oval platter above – which weighs more than two pounds – is over here.

The answer to the long-lived question of how to come close to Mimi’s Cafe honey bran muffins is this: Stop searching for Mimi’s Cafe bran muffin recipe altogether and just use Nancy Silverton’s terrific recipe. It addresses all the problems I noted previously here and in this way to office mates I shared these with two weeks ago:

I had tried several copycat recipes that gushed they were “just like Mimi’s honey bran muffins!”, but all of them were so far away – mostly way-too-sweet, dense brown muffins with a small handful of bran added as if in afterthought, and many with a sickly-sweet brown sugar/butter/honey glaze deposited in the tin before the batter that incorrectly hardens on the bottom of the muffins.

The results of Silverton’s recipe really are very close to if not even better than Mimi’s Cafe bran muffins: full of earthy bran flavor, soft and light in texture, and not oversweet. To complete the Mimi’s experience, drizzle a little diluted honey onto the bottoms of the still-warm muffins after you invert them out of the tin.

The ingredients are pretty easy to commit to memory, and most of it is in half-cups. Note that there’s almost three times as much bran as flour in the recipe. This is key.

Clockwise from upper left: raisins simmered in water, still to be puréed; vegetable oil; water; unprocessed bran, toasted; egg plus egg white; all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; buttermilk; lightly diluted honey; light brown sugar; raisins left whole. The orange zest was in a tiny prep bowl that I forgot to put in frame.

Drizzling the diluted honey on the still-warm muffins

I can confirm that these do not last long at all

My notes and then the recipe:

  • You can easily find unprocessed bran in US supermarkets that have a small Bob’s Red Mill and/or Hodgson Mill section, usually in the baking aisle. Bob’s is in 10 ounce bags – about five cups – while Hodgson Mill comes in 14 ounce boxes with about seven cups:
  • Make sure you butter the bottom and sides of the muffin wells or these will stick, even in a non-stick tin (I forgot once). I also smear a little butter all around the top as well so the muffin tops don’t stick.
  • Resist any temptation to use golden raisins – they’re not right for this recipe (I tried them once).
  • Once you mix the dry ingredients into the wet, get the batter in the pre-buttered tin and into the oven without delay (I use a #16 ice cream disher for quick portioning instead of the piping bag mentioned in the recipe). The baking powder and baking soda react quickly with the buttermilk and you want them to start baking while the batter is nicely puffed up.
  • My only addition to Silverton’s recipe is that I let the muffins cool in the tin for about five minutes, then loosen the muffin top edges with something that won’t scratch the non-stick surface, then invert the muffins onto a sheet of parchment paper on the counter (catches dripping honey), where I immediately drizzle a microwave-warmed 2-to-1 honey-water mixture onto the bottoms of the muffins for the full Mimi’s Cafe effect. I use a condiment squirt bottle to drizzle a teaspoon or so on each small muffin, or a couple teaspoons each for large size muffins.
  • Mimi’s correctly serves their large-size bran muffins warm and upside-down with a pat of butter on the side. If you don’t warm these before serving, both texture and taste will suffer. From room temperature, microwave one small muffin for 20 seconds; 35 seconds for one large muffin.

Bran Muffins – Nancy Silverton

Her introduction from Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from the La Brea Bakery:

Every baker has her version of a bran muffin, and I have mine. Most recipes call for sweetened bran cereals and lots of sugar, defeating the purpose of this healthier style of muffin. I make mine the way they should be, with lots of toasted unprocessed bran and pureed raisins. When toasted, bran adds a distinctive, nutty flavor. The cooked and pureed raisins saturate the muffins, giving them their unusually dark color and moist, fruity quality.

Special Items: ½-cup-capacity muffin tin, lightly coated with melted butter; (optional) pastry bag fitted with a wide tip

  • 2 cups unprocessed bran
  • 1½ cups raisins
  • 1½ cups water
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest, finely chopped (about one-third of an orange)
  • ½ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 extra-large egg
  • 1 extra-large egg white
  • ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup stone-ground whole-wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350F/175C.

Spread the bran on a baking sheet and toast for 6 to 8 minutes, until toasted, stirring halfway through to ensure that it doesn’t burn.

In a small saucepan, stir together 1 cup of the raisins and 1 cup of the water and simmer on low heat until the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Place in a blender or in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, and process until pureed.

Pour the bran into a large bowl, add the buttermilk and remaining ½ cup of water, and stir to combine. Stir in the raisin puree, orange zest, and brown sugar.

Add the oil, whole egg, and egg white, mixing well to incorporate.

Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into the raisin mixture. Add the remaining whole raisins and stir to combine.

Fill the pastry bag half full and pipe or spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins, filling the cups to just over the rim and mounding the batter slightly.

Bake for about 25 minutes, until the muffins are well browned and firm to the touch.

Yield: 12 regular size or 6 large muffins

Menu from the very first Mimi’s Cafe in Anaheim, California; click for a larger size

I borrowed it from the restaurant around 1980 and it’s been on my kitchen wall in its folded form ever since; I have no intention of returning it

Blackberry hand pies

Click for 1920×1080

Back in July, I noted King Arthur Flour’s blog entry for blueberry hand pies, and finally got around to making a blackberry version this past weekend. Then I made a bunch more Monday night to bring in to work – the results pictured above – with some adjustments that made them noticeably better. Foremost, I did four turns of the rough puff pastry instead of just the two called for in the recipe. That added only an extra half-hour of chilling and five or six more minutes of pounding/rolling/folding, and it was worth every minute.

A friend I shared them with on Sunday had been looking for a fairly simple puff pastry recipe and asked for this one, so I sent her the link and my notes, that email pasted under the line here. I did all the “next time, I’m going to” things mentioned below for version 2 on Monday night and each of them paid off handsomely.

If puff pastry – even this simpler rough puff recipe – seems daunting to you, it isn’t. Scroll through their pictorial blog entry and you’ll see it’s pretty straightforward. I’ve wanted to try my hand at it ever since, some years ago, I saw the price on frozen puff pastry that’s made with actual butter – and quickly moved along, defensively clutching my money clip. Oooowee, that’s some profit! I should add that it wasn’t Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets because theirs haven’t been within a country mile of even two molecules of butter. Strictly oils and high-fructose corn syrup in there, friends – not what you would call traditional.

There were more pies than people on Tuesday; inside an hour, only five or six crumbs were left on the platter. This recipe is going onto my frequently-made list.


Step-by-step on the King Arthur Flour Baking Blog:

Blueberry Hand Pies Bakealong

The changes I made were to 1) switch to blackberries, cutting them in half cross-wise because they were big (though they’re more tart than blueberries, I specifically did not increase the sugar in the filling because I prefer lightly sweet desserts where the fruit has the leading role), 2) add a half-teaspoon of cinnamon to the berry mixture, 3) use Sugar in the Raw to sprinkle on top instead of sparkling sugar because that’s what I have, and 4) use Julia Child’s method for the egg wash: Add a half-teaspoon of water to the egg, mix with a fork, then strain into a small bowl using the fork to further mix in the strainer and get the liquid through. Slackening the liquid and straining out the chalazae – those protein strands that anchor the yolk to the top and bottom of the shell – makes it easier to apply the wash well; coverage can be a bit spotty otherwise. This is especially true of very fresh eggs, where the chalazae are larger and thicker.

Note that you can use salted butter. There’s about an eighth teaspoon of salt in one stick of salted, so just reduce the ¾ teaspoon salt in the dough to ½ teaspoon and you’re all set. You can also sprinkle the pies with regular granulated sugar instead of larger crystals after the final egg wash. I think it does need that little bit of sweetness on top.

Flour your work surface well but not excessively throughout and brush excess off the dough before folding each time. Based on how quickly the dough softened as I worked with it, next time I make them, at the last rollout, I’m going to shape into the final 14×14″ sheet, cut the 3½” squares, arrange them on parchment on a baking sheet, and put them back in the fridge for 20 minutes. Then I’ll take them out and assemble the pies while the dough is nice and firm and get them in the oven. In assembling, I’m going to use a lighter touch with the fork crimping of the edges to allow the sides to rise more. The filling is thick enough that it’s not really trying to escape, so that won’t result in breaches.

Based on some other rough puff pastry recipes that do more than the two turns this one features, next time I’m also going to add the step of two more turns, for a total of four, after the initial 30-minute chilling, then chill the dough a further 30 minutes before the final 14×14″ rolling. This will produce 81 layers instead of just 9 from two turns. Traditional puff pastry dough gets five or six turns, producing 243 or 729 layers, respectively.

Sour cream is used here as the liquid instead of the water used in traditional puff pastry for four reasons: 1) adds liquid with additional fat to the recipe (like butter & shortening or butter & lard), 2), adds acidity that reacts with the baking powder (which reacts to both heat and acid), 3) tenderizes the gluten in the flour for a more delicate texture, and 4) helps baked goods in general retain moisture so they’re not dry husks after a day. Not that there are going to be any of these left in 24 hours, mind you.

Test puffs

Before doing the main batch, I did a couple of test profiteroles to ensure that using a #40 disher instead of a piping bag wouldn’t cause problems. They look pretty good to me – nice and crisp, too, after being slashed on the side and left in the turned-off oven for five minutes to dry the inside.

These are big enough that after I pipe the banana custard in, I can then slip the strawberry slice in through the side slash as a sort of surprise, with just chocolate ganache on top. (They are better with a good quality strawberry slice than without.) I made the ganache with bittersweet chocolate, double cream, butter, vanilla, and a tablespoon of rum.

My new favourite cinnamon buns

I keep the butter & cream cheese icing separate, warm the buns before serving, and let people slather on as much or as little icing as they like

This is my new favourite recipe for cinnamon buns. With a dough not too far away from a brioche, they’re a bit crispy on the outside and, inside, beautifully soft and light but not mushy.

Cinna-Buns

Adapted and expanded from the King Arthur Flour recipe here: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/cinna-buns-recipe

Makes 12 very large buns or 24 medium buns

Ahead of time: An hour or two ahead, take two sticks of butter (three if you’re doubling the icing), a package of cream cheese, and two eggs out of the fridge so they can warm to room temperature. Note that you can use salted butter if you want – there’s a negligible 1/8th teaspoon of salt in a quarter-pound salted stick, so it won’t make an appreciable difference.

Ratios are crucial in baking, so I measure by weight – especially important for the flour.

Ingredients

Dough

  •     1 cup lukewarm milk [heat in microwave about 1 minute until 115F/45C or so]
  •     2 large eggs, at room temperature
  •     1/3 cup (2 5/8 oz, 75g) softened unsalted butter, cut into half-tablespoon pieces
  •     4 1/2 cups (19 oz, 540g) all-purpose flour
  •     1 3/4 teaspoons salt
  •     1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz, 100g) granulated sugar
  •     2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast or active dry yeast

Filling

  •     1/3 cup (2 5/8 oz, 75g) softened unsalted butter
  •     1 cup light brown sugar, packed  (7 1/2 oz, 210g)
  •     3 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Icing

  •     6 tablespoons (generous 1/3 cup, 3 oz, 85g) cream cheese, softened
  •     1/4 cup (half stick, 2 oz, 57g) unsalted butter, softened
  •     1 1/2 cups (6 oz, 170g) confectioners’ sugar
  •     1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

[I usually double the icing recipe and then let guests use as much or as little as they like. I also decrease the sugar and increase the butter and cream cheese to make the icing not as sickly sweet as the original recipe.]

Directions

  1. To make the dough: Mix together and knead all of the dough ingredients – by hand, mixer, or bread machine – to make a smooth, soft dough. [In a stand mixer with a dough hook, this will take 6 or 7 minutes. When the side of the bowl is fairly clean and the dough starts to climb the hook a bit, it’s ready. Note that, like brioche dough, which is similarly enriched with butter, sugar, and egg, this may seem too wet at the start, but it isn’t.]
  2. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to grease all sides, cover the bowl, and let the dough rise for 60 minutes, or until it’s nearly doubled in bulk. [Enriched doughs can take longer to rise – up to two hours in a cold kitchen or if your ingredients weren’t at room temperature or if your yeast is a little tired.]
  3. Deflate and roll out the dough: Gently deflate the dough, and transfer it to a lightly greased work surface. [It’s very important to grease the surface – you’ll need two feet by a foot-and-a-half – because you’re rolling a fairly wet dough to 3-4mm thickness and it would stick like tape otherwise. This may seem daunting, but don’t worry, the dough is very pliable and easy to stretch without tearing.] Pat the dough out into a rough rectangle, then roll to 16×21″/40x53cm, keeping the corners as square as practical.
  4. Filling: [For this step, I find it’s easier to microwave the butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon for about 30 seconds, then mix to form a paste that you can spread fairly evenly onto the dough. Allow it to cool a bit if it feels hot. This method also stops a bunch of the filling from falling out and ending up on the bottom of your pan.] Original method: Spread the dough with the 1/3 cup butter. Mix the brown sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle it evenly over the dough.

5a. For 12 large buns: Starting with a short end, roll the dough into a 16″/40cm log and cut it into 12 slices. [Cut in half, then cut each half in half, then cut each quarter into three equal pieces.]

5b.  For 24 smaller buns: Starting with a long end, roll the dough into a 21″/53cm log and cut it into 24 slices. [Cut in half, then cut each half in half, then cut each quarter in half, then cut each eighth into 3 equal pieces.]

6. Place the buns in a lightly greased 9×13″/22x33cm pan. [3×4 rows for 12 buns or 4×6 rows for 24 buns.] Cover the pan and let the buns rise until they’re nearly doubled in size, about 30 minutes. [Again, your results may vary – it can take up to an hour. Be patient and let them puff up.]

7. While the buns are rising, preheat the oven to 400F/200C

8. Uncover the buns, and bake them until they’re golden brown, about 15 minutes. [Check them every few minutes starting at 15 minutes, but I’ve found that golden brown won’t appear until more than 20 minutes have passed. If you have a probe thermometer, 190-195F/87-90C inside the center buns is your target.] While the buns are baking, make the icing.

9. To make the icing: In a small bowl, beat together the softened cream cheese, softened butter, sugar, and vanilla. [I double the icing recipe and modify by using a little more butter and cream cheese and less confectioner’s sugar.]

10. Remove the buns from the oven. Spread the icing on the buns while they’re warm. [I keep the icing separate, partly so people can have as much or as little as they like and partly because only the baker normally sees that nice spiral. It would be a shame to hide it away permanently.]

11. Serve buns warm, or at room temperature. [Room temperature? Stop it.] Wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for a day or so; freeze for longer storage.

This is how slack the kneaded dough will be

The first rise will result in nearly two quarts/litres

Island surface sprayed with canola oil

Patted into a rectangle, then rolled out to about 16×21”/40x53cm and 3-4mm thick

Filling spread over dough – it doesn’t have to be perfect

Dough rolled up on long side, sliced in half, then quarters, then eighths

Those eighths cut into thirds for 24 medium buns

Arranged in buttered 9×13”/22x33cm pan for second rise – a bit wonky looking, but…

…after the second rise, the wonkiness from the slicing has corrected itself

Out of the oven

A previous bake of the larger size – they’re pretty huge

 

A little overproofed

It seems that the local bakery I mentioned in this article has a) become a fair amount bigger than I knew and b) not scaled the operation up in the best way. The warning letter they got ten days ago from the FDA makes it clear they’re still operating a bit like they’re back in the good old days, when they were producing, say, several dozen loaves a day. When you grow quickly and start supplying some supermarket chains, you’re going to be inspected just as the big boys are and held to the same standards; they ought to have known that.

I began reading the letter with some dread because I like their sourdough. Thankfully, the infractions aren’t too awful, but I certainly hope they address them quickly and well. I wouldn’t want to read about “seizure and injunction” in a month or two.

One focus of the letter is that their “whole wheat” items aren’t, though they have some whole wheat flour. That you can tell at a glance – they’re far too light in colour. I just checked their web site and the whole wheat there is a lot darker than any loaf of theirs I’ve ever seen in person, so maybe they’ve already adjusted it. Not mentioned is their rye loaf, quite tasty but again far too light and too well-risen for a lot of rye to be involved; I think it’s probably a minority flour in that loaf.

I only found out about this because of news articles yesterday deriding the FDA’s admonition to Nashoba Brook Bakery to stop including “love” in their granola ingredient list. The CEO took exception to that and the whole wheat hand-slap, grumbling about the nanny state, and in the process, whether it was intentional or not – guess my guess! – successfully misdirected the majority of the media away from the lengthy list of mostly allergen-related violations in the FDA’s letter. But not everybody looked away to the pretty assistant at the crucial moment of the sleight. Personally, I would have fixed the problems post-haste, sent those responses the FDA never got, and kept my mouth shut.

Now, maybe love really is in there, but if honesty is always the best policy – see Mark Twain for the answer – we might see, for instance, Kraft required to list “indifference” and “avarice” among their processed cheese food product ingredients. I can easily see lawsuits if not fistfights breaking out over such subjective ingredients. Is this a road we want to go down? Probably not.